Protecting Your Family Matters

Important nuances in high net worth divorces

As a family lawyer specializing in high net worth and high profile cases for over 30 years, you can imagine that I have seen it all. Representing many individuals in the sports and entertainment fields — often involving complex, high conflict matters – I have observed that whatever the particular facts and circumstances of each case, there is one important commonality: control.

It is a given that every case I handle will have its share of “issues,” many of which go beyond the division of assets. Frequently, some urgent situation or chronic problem creates a dispute involving the need/desire/obsession of one party to dominate the other. Neither gender has exclusivity when it comes to pursuing, possessing, and asserting control, whether during the marriage, the divorce, or its aftermath. The reality is: Control is prevalent in any relationship. And, when couples are jockeying for it, a legal case becomes a contest. All too often, contests escalate to wars because, by nature, human beings are competitive.

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Control is a fickle power. It can change hands at the flick of a need or want, or due to external forces (such as employment or health problems), or internal circumstances (such as falling in love with someone else.) The battle for control is amplified in most personal relationships that fail, and may not be limited to the former couple. It can also include various personal and business associates.

Many of the clients I represent face the same issues as other divorcing individuals; however there are important nuances at play. There are issues of income, support, child custody and legal fees, of course, but not of the garden variety. Often it is precisely these complications that can cause the Control Wars, leading to prolonged litigation and negotiations. There are no cookie-cutter solutions.

“Control is a fickle power.”

Many wealthy individuals and, especially, entertainment and professional sports figures, often face what I have come to refer to as “The Deep Pocket Syndrome.” It is an unfortunate reality that men are targeted in paternity cases, no matter if they know the “accuser” or not. Some women, it seems, make it their job to become pregnant by men of renown – and in some instances, it becomes a serial job position. Innocent children become a lever for control. Moreover, if paternity is established, the father could be set up for substantial child support responsibilities, considerable legal fees and, although the court filings in paternity cases are sealed and the Court has the power to seal the hearings, professional images can be tarnished by leaks to the media from the party trying to gain leverage. Sadly, after the dust settles in these battles, the children of such “relationships” frequently become collateral damage.

In dissolutions of marriages or domestic partnerships, intellectual property rights, profit participation, residuals, and royalties often represent the most valuable of all the assets and they frequently become a battleground for control. Contracts are typically made over long periods of time, and are constantly renegotiated and amended. Valuing such assets can quickly become a hotly contested issue. These assets require a sophisticated and experienced family law attorney, working with a top forensic accountant, who understands the nuances involved.

The matter of support is often a difficult challenge when the major earner of the couple is a professional sports figure. Because their ability to play and earn at the highest levels is limited to a finite time period, support (both spousal and child) – and custody, for that matter – could change dramatically when the professional’s career ends. The lifetime of an entertainer’s career can be similarly brief or span decades, presenting equally complex implications. These are nuances that must be managed when the income of the earning spouse/parent exceeds the couple’s marital standard of living and/or the reasonable needs of the children.

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Child custody is another highly nuanced area of family law, particularly when one or both parents are required to be on location or travel extensively for business. The amount of time spent with the children, where that time is spent, the level of child support, the ages of the children – all are factors that impact custody agreements. If a parent’s absence is due to filming away from home, for example, is that parent entitled to makeup time? Are the children to visit on location, missing school, friends and their normal routine? Are the children of an age to fly alone? These sorts of custody arrangements are, in many cases, subject to annual renegotiation depending on the working parents’ professional demands. All too often, I have seen these negotiations become contentious Control Wars.

What is especially difficult about most divorce and custody cases is that this tug of war over control does not begin or end in my office or the courtroom. It may go on for years, long after the divorce decree or judgment of paternity is official. I truly believe that a better understanding of how to mitigate control battles would greatly benefit anyone contemplating or in the midst of divorce, and those who suffer from what I term “divorce residue.” Attorneys, even the best ones, cannot be expected to stop these battles or manage the other party. I have seen, however, that if both parties resolve to diminish the legal, financial and emotional Control Wars, there is hope for the prospect of healing and peace.