Navigating High Asset Divorce in Georgia (Strategies and Considerations)

Navigating High Asset Divorce in Georgia (Strategies and Considerations)

What is a High Asset Divorce in Georgia

Divorcing couples with substantial assets, investments and wealth will be involved in a contested divorce. This basically means there will be substantial disagreements and lengthy litigation to be sorted out regarding fair and equitable division of property. This article is for people who are facing a high asset divorce in Georgia.

A high asset divorce, in any circumstance, is a complex and emotionally charged process. Because of the extensive litigation required these divorces are typically considered contested divorces. When the financial situation is complex, versus a typical divorce, the intricacies amplify. Your legal team must invest a tremendous amount of time and critical thought on complicated short- and long-term aspects. This includes future tax obligations, appreciation, depreciation, (present value vs. potential future value). Achieving any sense of a successful divorce involving wealth means knowing how to win the long game.

The following is a guide to navigating a high net-worth divorce in Georgia.

Protecting Your Privacy

Confidentiality in High Asset Divorce

Privacy and discretion are common concerns in high profile divorces. In Georgia, divorce records are generally public records. One possible way to protect your privacy is to have your lawyer(s) petition the court to have the records sealed. In particular, you may find it desireable to file sensitive financial information under seal to prevent public disclosure. A judge has no obligation to grant the request but it is a possibility for privacy protection.

Why would you want records sealed? The Findlaw.com website offers the following as compelling reasons to seal divorce records. Per the article, a few reasons a judge may agree to seal records are: "…protecting victims of domestic violence, protecting children from being identified in the proceeding, protecting proprietary business information, preventing the spread of false allegations".1

Another way to protect your privacy

As far as how to approach your divorce in Georgia, a Mediated Divorce and Divorce Arbitration are excellent ways to keep the private stuff private. Using arbitration or mediation means the matter stays out of court. All of the ugliness (comments, accusations, etc.) stays between the parties and legal team. When the Settlement Agreement has achieved mutual acceptance, it is submitted to the court for review. In this approach, the Settlement Agreement is a just the facts document which does not include the truly personal elements of the matter. Your Settlement Agreement can include non-disclosure language to further mitigate fallout from post-divorce public comments by either of the divorcing parties.

Temporary Orders – Life During Your Divorce

A request for Temporary Orders should be part of your petition of divorce (filing). Change is not always comfortable; however, having these Orders can make things a bit stable and more predictable. Temporary orders can address critical issues that may otherwise become problems during the divorce process.

Common items addressed are who gets to live in the primary residence during the divorce, and amounts for temporary child support, spousal support, child custody and visitation. Note that whatever is determined in temporary orders does not necessarily indicate that these terms will be the same in your Divorce Settlement.

Why Bother With Temporary Orders?

The NOLO.com website offers this example, “Let’s say a couple is divorcing: the husband moves out, and the wife who’s left behind needs money to feed and shelter the children. Realizing that her children would starve long before a full trial could be held, she is desperate for help. She can go to court to request a temporary order from a judge. Once the request is properly made, a hearing will be scheduled within days or weeks and a judge will issue his or her decision, either at the hearing or shortly thereafter.”2

Understanding High Asset Divorces in Georgia

Georgia follows equitable distribution laws, meaning that marital assets are divided fairly but not what some would deem to be equally divided. In high asset divorces, property division becomes the greatest point of contention, and therein cost of the divorce.

What is Equitable Division in Georgia?

Each divorce court considers a wide range of factors to determine what is equitable distribution. From considering the length of the marriage and needs of minor children, to assessing the degree to which either spouse contributed to building asset, and anticipated post-divorce financial needs, the outcome of a high-asset divorce is never exactly the same.

What are Marital Assets

Marital assets refers to things acquired during the marriage. Marital assets may include not only tangible assets like property, businesses, investments, and retirement accounts but also intangible assets such as intellectual property and stock options. Georgia recognizes pre-marital assets as assets a person held before getting married. In Georgia, pre-marital assets are not subject to laws on property division.

Types of Property

Real Property and Personal Property

Real Property

The term Real Property generally covers types of real estate such as your home, vacation property, farms, forested land, rental properties, commercial buildings, etc.

Personal Property

The term Personal Property covers items such as cash, stocks, bonds, cryptocurrency, retirement accounts (IRA, 401K, etc.), vehicles, boats, furniture, jewelry, firearms, antiques, art, etc.

Dividing and Awarding Property

The first step in the process is to lay everything on the table. A disclosure process identifies every asset up for grabs, potential financial obligations, expenses, fees, and costs.

Asset Valuation: Accurate valuation of assets is paramount. Complex assets like businesses, investments, real estate holdings, and stock options may require professional appraisals or forensic accountants to determine their true worth. The divorcing parties often disagree on values so it may be necessary to hire third-party services to provide independent appraisals. As to who pays for such services, this will need to be determined as things progress.

Spousal Support: In Georgia, spousal support (alimony) is determined based on various factors, including the length of the marriage, the standard of living established during the marriage, and each spouse’s financial standing. High asset divorces often involve significant discussions around alimony (spousal support) and child support.

How long does spousal support last? It varies. It is common to have a spouse pay spousal support for a number of years equal to 1/3 of the marriage (i.e., pay support 4 years if married 12 years). Other times a judge may require a person to pay spousal support for the time it takes for the other spouse to establish an income source (i.e., job, etc.). It is worth noting that proof of adultery nullifies any ability to receive spousal support.

Child Custody and Support: While asset division is crucial, child custody and support are equally important. The court prioritizes the child’s best interests when determining custody arrangements and child support.

Child support obviously includes a monthly payment made by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent. The amount of basic child support is based generally on a child support calculator system. It is common that some child support agreements include additional amounts for special needs children, extracurricular activities, and education expenses.

Who Gets the Home in a Divorce?

Who will be awarded the family home is one of the top issues in any divorce. Unlike a typical divorce, possession of an estate is more than simply a place to live. While the divorcing parents may focus on value, location, and presitge, the courts see things differently if minor children are involved. Consider these thoughts found on the DivorceNet.com website, "a custodial parent (parent who primarily lives with the children) may have an advantage when it comes to getting the house in a divorce. One factor a judge will consider is the need to provide a stable home environment to any children. This often means the custodial parent will receive the marital home as part of a divorce award."3

Divorces Involving a Business

Divorces involving business ownership can become very contentious. Per the Burns Smith Law website, "Often, the livlihood of both parties is tied to the income generated by the business. Spouses usually disagree on their individual contributions to starting, building, and managing the business. However, just because you’re getting a divorce it doesn’t mean you will lose your business.

How business ownership is determined in a divorce can go a lot of different ways. We suggest reading a short article on the LegalZoom website. A key statement included is "If you’re going through a divorce and also own a business, things could get complicated."4 The article discusses potential outcomes and, for those in a pre-planning stage of divorce, advice on how to protect your business in advance.

QDRO – Dividing Retirement Accounts

A QDRO, or Qualified Domestic Relations Order, is a domestic relations order addresses the transfer of certain retirement account funds from one spouse to the other. A QDRO is a legal way to separate and move accounts funds and avoiding penalties and taxes.

Can I use a QDRO in my divorce? The Department of Labor website states, “There is nothing in ERISA or the Code that requires that a QDRO (that is, the provisions that create or recognize an alternate payee’s interest in a participant’s retirement benefits) be issued as a separate judgment, decree, or order. Accordingly, a QDRO may be included as part of a divorce decree or court-approved property settlement, or issued as a separate order, without affecting its qualified status.” 5

Divorce Strategies for Success

Hire Experienced Legal Counsel. Given the complexity of high asset divorces, seek legal counsel with expertise in handling such cases. A knowledgeable attorney can guide you through the legal intricacies and protect your interests.

Gather Comprehensive Financial Documentation. Compile detailed financial records, including tax returns, bank statements, investment portfolios, property deeds, business documents, and any other relevant financial information.

Consider Alternative Dispute Resolution. High asset divorces can be emotionally draining and financially taxing through litigation. Mediation or collaborative divorce methods might offer more amicable and cost-effective solutions.

Protect Your Interests. Safeguard your interests by understanding your rights and obligations. Be involved in the valuation process and ensure transparency in all financial dealings.

Focus on Long-Term Goals. Emotions can run high during a divorce, but it’s essential to focus on long-term financial stability and the well-being of any children involved.

Do Not Try to Hide Assets!

When you find yourself entering into a divorce, it could be said that it’s natural to act for personal survival. The problem with that thinking is that it can run you afoul of the law, and financially harm you. More to the point, it’s dangerous to think that you have a foolproof way to hide assets and beat the system. Don’t do it.

Examples of Things You Should Not Do

  • Giving away things and thinking people can later just give the items back to you.
  • Selling property and hiding the proceeds (cash, etc.).
  • Creating secret accounts that your spouse does not know about.
  • Slowly draining accounts with withdrawals or paying fake bills.
  • Trying to devalue assets by using shill appraisers.
  • Hiding parts of assets such as hiding items that make up part of collections.
  • Falsifying business documents such as income statements, inventory, property, etc.

Doing these types of things will almost always result in big problems. In fact, some of these actions could result in costly tax liabilities or criminal charges.

If such actions are discovered as you are going through your divorce the court may find you in contempt of court. In that situation the divorce judge can impose punitive sanctions, and the assets will be added to the overall list of property to be divided. Altough it would go unspoken, the judge may harbor negative opinions about you and subsequently make biased decisions on dividing the assets.

Finding Hidden Assets

Can opposing lawyers really find hidden assets? Yes. Lawyers can hire auditors, accountants, and investigators.

Discovery Process. This is an inital part of the divorce process. Your divorce law firm will request specific documents such as bank statements, tax filings, etc. We will look for odd transactions, especially remarkable recent transactions and progressive "bleed-offs of accounts".

Deposition. A deposition is effectively a meeting where, in this case, your spouse will appear with their lawyer and be questioned under oath. This process is recorded with video and audio of your testimony. During a deposition, a person is sworn-in before answering questions. Lying in a deposition is against the law which makes a deposition a very powerful tool to uncover hidden assets.

Public Records Search. A law firm can search public records for property transactions, titles, registrations, tax records, and more.

Forensic Audits. Divorce law firms can hire skilled forensic accountants to review business records, bank accounts, investment accounts, and more. This is similar to an IRS audit where auditors are looking for signs of sketchy actions.


Navigating a high asset divorce in Georgia demands meticulous planning, expert guidance, and a focus on both financial and emotional well-being. By approaching the process with thorough preparation and a clear understanding of your goals, you can navigate this challenging phase while safeguarding your future.

CREDITS and FOOTNOTES

  • 1 K. Pantekoek, “How Do I Get My Divorce Records Sealed?”, December 2, 2019, Available from FindLaw
  • 2 L. Guillen, “Temporary Orders in Family Court: Quick Decisions on Support and Custody”, April 3, 2021, Available from NOLO.com
  • 3 K. Otterstrom, “Equitable Division of Marital Property in Georgia”, September 22, 2020, Available from DivorceNet.com
  • 4 Staff Writer, "How Does Divorce Impact My Business?", November 21, 2023, Available from LegalZoom
  • 5Staff Writer, “FAQs about Qualified Domestic Relations Orders”, July 30, 2020, Available from U.S. Dept. of Labor
  • Photo by Pixabay, available at Pexels
Jimmy Duncan
James Hobson is a digital marketing professional with 25 years of experience in web development, search engine optimization, local search and online advertising. James has over 40 years of sales and marketing experience ranging from entrepreneur to senior management for start-ups, SMB, and Fortune 100 companies. James has specific business expertise with advertising agency, law firm, service trade, manufacturing, construction and industrial sectors. He has been a sales and marketing speaker for events, and is a frequent contributing author for law and business blogs under the nom de plume Jimmy Duncan.

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