In Your Experience, What Are Some Of The Biggest Mistakes That Someone Makes Or Can Make In A High Net Worth Divorce?
The biggest mistake anybody can make in a high net worth divorce is to hire lawyers without first attempting mediation.
What Should I Be Looking For In Representation For My High Net Worth Divorce Specifically When It Comes To Mediation? Not All Mediators, I Assume, Are Created Equal.
That assumption is correct. All mediators are not all created equal. First of all, anybody can hang a shingle and say, “I’m a mediator.” You can have a butcher shop and the mediation room can be in the back of it. Any mediator that a divorcing couple seeks should be an attorney with experience. How much experience? That’s completely up to each individual. It took me about 10 years of practicing matrimonial and family law before I really had a good handle and understanding of what this area of the law was all about., I would say that for high net worth couples, at least 10 years of experience is the right number.
An attorney or attorney/mediator should have concluded a minimum of 100 mediations to have gained the necessary experience to deal with high net worth cases. The issues between an average income family living in Long Island making $100,000 combined income, to a high net worth case with $5 million of assets and $350,000 of income, are identical. The issues are identical when it relates to the children and assets. But, high net worth cases are much easier to settle because there is money to pay for everything when you split up the households.
In a $100,000 combined divorce case, having separate residences and continuing to live on Long Island, there is no easy solution. Nor is the result going to be pretty, regardless of how experienced the mediator is. You can only create a workable solution if the materials are available to you. Moreover, it is virtually impossible for a family who is accustomed to a decent life in Long Island to exist in two separate households on less than $100,000 per year of combined income. Now, in the era of the pandemic, with prices rapidly rising, (have you been to the supermarket lately?), it is highly likely that number has increased to perhaps $125,000, or even $150,000. It takes years to establish these statistics, so the actual number is yet to be determined.
Do We Need To Involve Other Professionals While Engaged In Mediation, Such As Tax Experts, Other Types Of Attorneys, And The Forensic Accountants You Mentioned?
In high net worth couples, if custody or shared parenting is an issue, about a dozen couples that I have mediated have used private hire law guardians, (now called Attorneys For the Children or AFC in court). Attorneys for children help guide them couples to make informed intelligent decisions about where the children spend their time, without ruining whatever modicum of goodwill exists in the current relationship, especially the relationships between each parent and the children. When you do this through mediation in a private setting, none of your dirty laundry is being exposed to anyone at any time. There is no judge making a decision. There are no people not involved in your case observing your interactions with the Judge. There is instead, expert guidance with a skilled and experienced mediator who collaborates with one or more outside professionals on a private hire basis.
The vast majority of couples come to mediation having the custody part figured out. Logically, if two parents cannot figure out what to do with their children, then they should hire me or some other experienced attorney to litigate the case. If you and your spouse cannot make decisions for yourself about something so fundamental as where your children catch the school bus, then maybe a judge’s decision is what you need. It is specifically cases like this that belong in the litigated arena of Court.
High net worth couples are always looking to safeguard their assets. Tax impacting settlements used to be much more important than they are now because the taxability of what used to be called alimony, (now called spousal maintenance), was eliminated in 2019. Today, everything is formula-driven. High net worth couples have to be educated and determine what the New York State law says about the division of assets. A skilled mediator, who is good with the calculator, can help sketch out what a settlement will look like. An experienced attorney has the needed experience to accurately predict the likely decision that a Suffolk County Supreme Court judge would make if presented with the issue that has to be litigated. Support is now based on a formula for children and spouses. Therefore, the high net worth couple should always seek an experienced skilled mediator with a good reputation in the community before they lawyer up, spend needless tens of thousands of dollars, and ruin relationships between each other, and with their children.
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“individual or as a couple”