This week, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his wife Mackenzie announced their plans to divorce, setting off speculation about how the couple’s estimated $138 billion net worth (2019 value) will be divided.
Are you going through a high net worth divorce of your own? Here’s how to start prioritizing a safeguarded future for you and your children.
High net worth divorce requires smart decision making
Jeff and Mckenzie Bezos wed in 1993, long before Amazon was a household name. Over 25 years later, the couple have four children, a fortune in real estate, deep cash reserves, billions rolling in from Amazon profits, and reportedly no prenuptial agreement.
Their wealth may be lavish, but the goals for Mr. and Ms. Bezos in their divorce are no doubt similar to what most divorcing spouses want: a clean and quiet divorce in which children are protected and fair asset decisions are made.
However, with so much wealth up in the air — and with a hungry press eager divulge every last lurid detail of their marriage’s demise — reaching these goals will require smart, agile decisions across the divorce process, including these five key areas.
Your High Net Worth Divorce Checklist
Protect your privacy.
Once the decision to divorce has been made, there are several legal steps you can take to lockdown sensitive details that could affect everything from your brand and business to your personal relationships and your children’s well-being if they got out.
- As part of a separation agreement, some divorcing spouses agree to a mutual gag order stipulating that no mention of the divorce and/or no derogatory mention of the other spouse may be made on social media or in comments to the press (during the divorce and beyond).
- Another privacy-protecting strategy is to file for divorce on the no-fault grounds of “irreconcilable difference” as a way to leave the reason for divorce intentionally vague (see below for more benefits of filing on n0-fault grounds).
- In some high profile divorces, it’s possible to file for divorce under “anonymous caption” and all public records related to your divorce will be labeled anonymous v. anonymous. Explore the pros and cons of requesting anonymous caption.
- The way you divorce can also make or break your privacy in divorce. Divorce trials and other divorce litigation become a matter of public record, so to protect your privacy, you will want to do your very best to settle your matter out of court through private mediation or other alternative method that keeps all your details off the public record.
Choose your grounds for divorce carefully.
Your spouse cheated, so should you file for divorce under the grounds of adultery? In most cases, the answer to this question is actually no. Here’s why: when you file for divorce under the “fault” ground of adultery, you will need to prove to the courts that the adultery indeed took place. This can take considerable time, money and aggravation to complete, and usually only serves to ratchet up tensions between parties.
Even if adultery is proven, the courts generally don’t take this into consideration when making decisions about child custody or even asset division, unless the cheating spouse diverted marital assets to the paramour. In contrast, when divorce is filed for on the no-fault grounds of irreconcilable differences, there is no need to prove fault as part of the divorce proceedings.
What we find is that this can go a long way towards lowering tensions. Remember: the more amicable the divorce, the easier it is to achieve the clean and quiet divorce you seek.
Safeguard your time with your children now.
If you have the financial resources to relocate upon your decision to separate, do so only after you have a written agreement that defines temporary custody and parenting time during this time before your divorce. If you move out without this kind of order, your ex may use this as leverage to withhold the children from you. In your divorce, your ex could then cite you “never spending time with your kids” as part of their strategy to fight for full custody.
Children should not be pawns in your divorce. Protect them — and protect your relationship with them — by creating a clear schedule that outlines how much time they will spend with each of you in the time leading up to your divorce. This schedule can be used as part of your final custody settlement.
Analyze the enforceability of your prenuptial agreement.
Jeff and Mackenzie Bezos reportedly never signed a prenuptial agreement. If you have a prenup signed before your marriage that outlines certain terms in the event of a divorce, have your attorney take a look to ensure that the terms of the document are likely to be viewed as enforceable by the courts. Oral/verbal prenups are generally unacceptable.
Work with a family law attorney who is experienced with complex assets.
High net worth individuals may already be working with a tax or commercial attorney for help with business matters. This attorney’s insight is still very valuable, but in your divorce, you really want the help of a family law attorney specialist to be able to guide you through the complexities of martial asset division, child custody, alimony and child support. Your family law attorney can also advise on the best method for the divorce process, including divorce mediation, collaborative divorce, arbitration and other out of court settlement methods.
Since asset division will be key in your divorce, you also want to be sure that your family law attorneys is skilled with asset valuations, interpretation of shareholder agreements, and the intricacies of dividing investment portfolios and stock options.
Have questions about high net worth divorce? Meet with one of our divorce specialists to find out your rights and get answers to all your questions. Start safeguarding your future today. Call us at 888-888-0191, or please click the button below.