A Guide to Child Custody Considerations for High-Net-Worth Parents Facing Divorce
Over the past two decades, I’ve represented many high-net-worth and high-profile individuals during their divorces. Everyone tends to assume the only complicating factor in these cases is the fact that these individuals tend to have far more assets to identify, value, and divide than a “typical” divorce, but that’s not always true. In my experience, just like whenever a “typical” divorce involves contested child issues, it is often a more complicated case; the same holds true for HNW (high net worth) divorces.
When a HNW divorce also involves children and child custody issues, it can be far more complicated than a HNW divorce that only involves financial and property issues – often for unique reasons when compared to a “typical” divorce involving child-related issues. For instance, post-divorce parenting strategies can be much more complicated and difficult to negotiate quickly due to the HNW lifestyle(s) established during these marriages. Therefore, one of the most important considerations in a high-net-worth divorce is having an experienced legal team representing you to help guide and advise you on how best to handle these unique scenarios.
Let’s take a look at what you need to know about child custody considerations when you and your partner have significant assets:
Child Support Agreements
Let’s talk money first, because that’s certainly going to be one of the driving factors as to how the remainder of the agreement can be carried out once the divorce is over. Therefore, one of the most important aspects of any divorce involving children is the child support agreement. The best practice for any agreement is to clearly outline the financial obligations of each parent with regard to providing for their children’s needs.
In a HNW divorce, this can be especially complex because it requires an understanding of both parties’ incomes, or if only one spouse generates a steady income, if and how that income will be used to now support both households. Often in HNW divorces, neither parent earns income in the traditional way (i.e., paychecks for work done for someone else), but instead one or both own businesses or live off the income generated by investments, passive business interests, or even a family trust passed down from wealthy family members that may not be easily divisible.
Most states have guidelines that determine how much child support should be paid. More often than not, a HNW case will fall outside of the income limits for these “standard” calculations. If so, the parties will often find that their attorneys need to do a bit more research and negotiation to determine how best to calculate the amount needed to meet their children’s needs post-divorce, especially when the parties have different thoughts on that issue.
Many times, a financial expert is hired to review the parties’ finances and create a “Lifestyle Analysis Report” for the attorneys and the Court to review before agreeing on or setting a specific monthly child support amount for post-divorce. This analysis looks at the lifestyle and associated expenses that the parties had established for their child pre-separation. While the Court will not necessarily guarantee that the exact lifestyle should be maintained for the children post-divorce, it will not want to force them to suffer unnecessary consequences of a dramatically different lifestyle if the parties’ post-divorce resources can still support what the children have already grown accustomed to.
Regardless of how the parties or the Court reaches a decision on what support will be paid, it is essential that both parties have a fair and equitable child support agreement that considers all sources of income so that there are no surprises down the line.
Physical Custody Arrangements & Parenting Time Schedules
The other most important factor in these cases is where the child will physically live post-divorce. While it may seem like this issue would be decided very similarly to a “typical” divorce case, that’s not always the case. HNW parents, especially those who have business or investment interests in many states (or even globally), may lead very “mobile” lives. If they have multiple homes, their children could be very accustomed to spending long periods of time (i.e., not just a short vacation stay) in multiple places throughout the year. Accordingly, when the custody issues are contested, the Court will be very interested in how the parties plan to deal with living arrangements post-divorce when frequent travel without one or both parents would be necessary for the child to maintain that lifestyle.
Another consideration for the Court will be how the parents propose maintaining their children’s educational needs, especially if the parents are living in very different parts of the state, country, or world. If the Court or the parents determine that the child should be in a traditional school, it will then be necessary to set a parenting schedule that will allow the child to enjoy time and access to the parent who won’t be living full-time where the school is located. If the child had enjoyed at-home tutors who provided their education when traveling, a decision will need to be made about whether that plan continues, and, if so, how do those expenses work into the child support agreement, if at all.
Because there many other considerations that must be taken into account when building a suitable parenting plan for HNW parents, it’s critical to have a highly experienced legal team representing your interests from the beginning, if possible. Your attorney will need to have a clear understanding of your and your children’s pre-separation divorce life so he may properly advise you, and the Court on your behalf, about the lifestyle considerations you wish to keep as well as which may need creative adjustments to ensure your and your children’s needs are met, without wasting the assets and resources that will be needed to support your ideal post-divorce life.
Child custody considerations can, and often do, have far-reaching implications in any divorce situation but especially for high-net-worth couples, who must consider various lifestyle choices and their associated financial obligations along with the typical parental responsibilities that are involved with raising children. With careful planning and communication between both parties and with their attorneys providing guidance, a workable solution can usually be found that allows everyone involved – especially your children – to move forward with their lives after divorce in a healthy manner and without too much disruption or stress from the added burden of familial conflict due to differing opinions on parenting strategies. Having a team of experienced professionals who understand the unique needs of high-net-worth individuals and families is essential to ensure that all potential issues are taken into account when resolving these cases and that the resulting agreement is comprehensive enough to provide for everyone’s needs while also avoiding the need for future litigation.
If you and your spouse are considering divorce, don’t make any decisions about how to proceed before talking with a trusted attorney in your area. Your divorce and any settlement you create will be subject to your state’s divorce laws. Without discussing your situation with an attorney, your agreement may not be what you want or what is beneficial to your future. If you’re in South Carolina, it’s important to contact an experienced family court attorney like J. Benjamin Stevens today to discuss your specific situation. Even if you aren’t in South Carolina, Mr. Stevens is happy to offer referrals to a well-qualified attorney located in your state.
Mr. Stevens is President-Elect of the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. He is a Fellow in the International Academy of Family Lawyers and a Board-Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He has provided exceptional legal counsel and support to families throughout South Carolina for over twenty-five years, handling all matters of family law, such as divorce, separation, child custody, alimony, and equitable division of assets and debts. Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to request a consultation.
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Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.
ABOUT J. BENJAMIN STEVENS
Ben.Stevens@offitkurman.com | 864.598.9172
Aggressive, creative, and compassionate are words Ben Stevens' colleagues freely use to describe him as a divorce and family law attorney. Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is one of only two attorneys in South Carolina with those simultaneous distinctions. He has held numerous leadership positions in the AAML, and he currently serves as one of its National Vice Presidents. Mr. Stevens has a statewide practice and regularly appears all across South Carolina. His practice is focused on complex divorce and child custody cases.
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