Recent news headlines have seen a number of high-profile entrepreneurs and business people going through the pain of a marriage in trouble. During my time working in London I frequently worked on similar high-profile divorce cases involving successful city professionals, sportspeople, musicians and entertainment professionals, and families who are wealthy in their own right. Typically these people lead hectic lives, travel extensively and juggle the pressures of being under the spotlight in their chosen fields, which makes them ideal fodder for news and social media interest when their marriage breaks down.
In my experience cases of this nature often have international aspects and may involve dealing with properties owned in multiple cities or countries, and can involve assets held in varying structures around the globe in either traditional western markets or emerging markets. Given the rise of global citizens and investor visas for some countries, it is not uncommon for high-profile people to have links to several different jurisdictions around the world, which can make for a complicated and drawn out divorce.
However it doesn’t have to be this way. Elite family lawyers will try to keep matters for high-profile clients out of court and the public eye, and will work extremely hard to have both financial and children’s disputes resolved in private. There are many ways to do this, which is why discretion and trust is extremely important to ensure that clients are comfortable with the legal strategy but also how the overall matter is being handled.
Anyone who finds themselves in similar circumstances should be aware of a few key guiding principles that will assist in getting through the difficulty of a high-profile divorce.
- Get a nuptial agreement. Whilst rarely viewed as a romantic sentiment, it has become more common for high-profile or wealthy couples to have a nuptial agreement. It can be viewed as both a weapon and a shield as it sets out what would happen should the couple separate or divorce, allowing the couple to regulate their financial affairs in advance of potential marital strife. The process of discussing the agreement will also bring to the surface any difficult issues whilst the couple are on good terms and their relationship is not under strain. A nuptial agreement is an excellent way to keep matters out of court, and the public eye, in the event of divorce or separation.
- Take advice early. If you are experiencing difficulties in your marriage or relationship or you are considering separation then it is essential to take advice early to know where you stand. It’s important to find out whether you should be taking any steps to protect yourself or, if you are in fact taking ‘wrong’ steps, then get advice on how to rectify the situation as quickly as possible. By taking advice early you are in the best position to be aware of any pitfalls which may be heading your way, and you can make informed decisions that are best for you and your family.
- Find common ground first. It is often easy for anyone going through an emotional and traumatic time in their life to get caught up with issues that distract or prevent the wider or broader issues being resolved. The most productive way forward is to identify the common ground first, as when there is some positive momentum it is often easier to deal with the more problematic issues.
- Consider tax and estate planning implications. When large asset pools are at stake, it is vital to involve other professionals in order to incorporate into the legal strategy issues such as estate and financial planning for the future. This may include addressing issues such as whether family or discretionary trusts are appropriate for future income or future education costs, choice of private school and where the children shall reside if the parents are global citizens.
- Engage a PR professional. Media have a natural interest in the personal lives of high-profile people, which can make an already difficult situation even worse. It can also have a wider effect beyond the individuals by negatively impacting corporate reputations, sometimes with financial consequences. A PR expert will manage and mitigate media interest in conjunction with either you and if necessary your employer or agent. With the right communications advice this will ensure the media are handled in an appropriate and measured way to protect the couple individually as well as business reputations.
Whilst some people wish to have their day in court, the most successful and financially affluent clients for whom I have acted preferred to weigh up the emotional and other costs associated with their relationship breakdown being played out in the public eye. Divorce or children’s disputes can become all consuming, and takes their attention away from what they do best professionally or from focusing on the children’s needs, which must be given priority.
Contrary to popular belief if you can work through the issues in a constructive and helpful way this enables settlements to be reached more quickly. I have found that valuation issues are often the most problematic but once these matters have been resolved the parties and their legal representatives are able to focus on bringing about a financial settlement quickly and amicably.