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Splitting business assets in a high-asset divorce

A high-asset divorce, as the term implies, refers to a divorce involving substantial property and assets such as business assets, retirement plans, pensions and real estate. Scranton, Pennsylvania, residents who have faced high-asset divorces understand that such cases rarely run smoothly, because there are many assets on the line and spouses may fear an unjust settlement. A spouse who does not have a clear picture of the family's finances may find him or herself being short-changed during a high-asset divorce. Divorcing individuals, especially those dealing with business assets, may find the case of Howard Hamm and Ann Arnall interesting.

Local readers may be familiar with the divorce of Mr. Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, and Ms. Arnall. In a recent divorce ruling, the court ordered Mr. Hamm to pay $975 million to Ms. Arnall, which may seem like a lot, until one realizes that Mr. Hamm's business is valued at $18 billion. Ms. Arnall accepted the award, but intends to appeal the case. In divorce cases involving business assets, the business is considered a separate property if it was established prior to the marriage. However, a spouse's involvement in running business can turn it into a marital property, especially if the spouse invested money, time or effort to increase the value of the business.

The contribution of a spouse to the business can be difficult to discern. People facing high-asset divorces can hire business appraisers to help them with property valuation, including the contribution of each spouse to the business. Once a value is placed on a business and other assets and considerations accounted for, the divorcing parties can begin to divide the assets.

Divorce experts often encourage alternative options such as mediation and collaborative divorce to avoid time in court. While, high asset divorces may be more litigious due to the numerous assets that must be addressed, a couple who can reach agreement without going to court can settle the case faster and keep their private affairs out of the public eye.

Source: InvestmentNews, "Lessons from the $1B divorce case: how to split business assets," Darla Mercado, Jan. 13, 2015

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