Complex & High Asset Divorce

Our team is experienced in the nuances of a divorce involving complex and high asset estates. There are myriad factors to consider when assessing these types of cases, including if one or both of the parties owns a business or is a highly compensated executive. Additionally, when estates are larger in size or more complex in nature we are able to work with our clients to preserve their interests in a thoughtful manner. We work with some of the best forensic accounting firms, business valuators, real estate experts and tax attorneys to ensure that your estate is characterized, valued and divided in the most advantageous manner possible.

Additionally, our partners routinely work with private judges and arbitrators to protect the privacy of our clients when discretion, expediency or flexibility in scheduling is a priority. More information regarding this service is available here regarding private court proceedings and arbitrations.

Finally, because of the nature and size of disputes in cases involving complex and high asset estates, these cases often necessitate a final trial to finalize a property division or resolve some or all disputes related to character, value and division of property. We focus a large portion of our practice to jury trials and are even often hired by other family law litigators to assist in conducting jury trials because they are so specialized. We believe that our experience, tenacity and reputation related to our jury trial experience assists in effectuating the best outcome for our clients both inside and outside the courtroom. You can read more here if you have questions about whether your case would be a good fit for a jury trial or would like more information about the process.

If you find yourself contemplating or going through a divorce and have a complex or high asset estate it is important that you work with lawyers and other professionals that understand the nuanced and intricacies of the process. We are happy to talk with you about your situation to determine if we would be a good fit for your case.

Community and Separate Property

Typically, cases involving complex and/or high asset estates present issues of characterization of property. It is important that these issues are identified early in the process so that experts in these issues can be retained to prepare an analysis to protect your assets. More detailed information on the characterization of property can be found here.


The fair market value is the amount that a buyer would pay to a seller in an open market for an asset. The Texas Supreme Court further defines market value as between a “willing buyer” and a “willing seller.” In other words, both parties involved must be willing and able to buy or sell the property for such an action to determine market value.

Determining market value for divorce can be complicated because the valuation is often hypothetical. Actual value comes from negotiations between the buyer and the seller. When working in hypotheticals for the divorce, these negotiations never take place, so the real value is more difficult to determine. Figuring out the market value, therefore, relies on various approaches depending on the asset in question.

Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements

If you have a prenuptial agreement or a postnuptial agreement you may have questions about how that impacts your divorce and the division of your estate. Both agreements are contracts for the future division of property between a married couple. These agreements are particularly relevant to divorces occurring in Texas because the state does not recognize legal separation. It is not uncommon for one party to contest the validity of a prenuptial or postuptial agreement and our firm is experienced in litigating these issues in terms of contesting and enforcement of these contracts.  More information about these agreements can be found here.

Business Valuations

Often one of the more complicated yet vital parts of a divorce is valuing a closely owned business. A business has value, and that value will have to be taken into consideration by the trial court in dividing up the community estate. Just like any other asset, a business is to valued as the amount a willing buyer (who is under no compulsion to buy) would pay a willing seller (who is under no compulsion to sell).

Valuing a business can be a complicated matter, and it will often require the work with an expert certified in business valuation. Generally speaking, the expert will use one of three approaches to valuing a business:

Market Approach
The market approach simply looks at what a company has sold for on the market. There is rarely information available for the expert to rely on the market approach.

Asset Approach
Generally speaking, the asset approach is accomplished by looking at the assets owned by the business, and it can often be accomplished by looking at the business’ balance sheet. The expert would simply add the value of the assets (accounts receivable, cash on hand, equipment, etc.) and subtract the liabilities (accounts payable, credit cards, lines of credit owed, etc.) to come up with the value. The asset approach does not take into consideration that the business is an ongoing concern.

Income Approach
The income approach values the business as an ongoing concern and takes into account the intangible asset of goodwill (see below discussion on goodwill). In other words, this approach values the business as if it will continue to make money, thus increasing the value of the business. Generally speaking, the expert will look at historical income data for the business and project income into the future. The expert will then apply a capitalization rate on that projected income to determine the value of the business before discounts and before backing out personal goodwill.

In using the income approach, the expert will often apply discounts to the value of the business. The most common discounts are marketability discounts and lack-of-control discounts. A marketability discount takes into account how long it may take to sell the business. The longer it potentially would take to sell a business, the greater the discount. A lack-of-control discount takes into account ownership of the business. If one does not have a majority interest in a business (and therefore cannot control the decisions of the company), that interest is worth less than if the owner has a majority interest of the business. The lack of control discount takes these factors into account.

Goodwill can be a confusing and complicated process of business valuation. There are two types of goodwill: personal and enterprise goodwill.

Enterprise goodwill is defined by the International Glossary of Business Valuation Terms, as “[t]hat intangible asset arising as a result of name, reputation, customer loyalty, location, products and similar factors not separately identified.” As an example, think of Rolex. Rolex is worth much more than just its stock, real estate, and capital. The name Rolex means something; it has value. That name is Rolex’s enterprise goodwill and is no different than a closely held business. The name, reputation, and structure have value.

Personal goodwill is the value of the business attributable to the individual owner of the company. The Pattern Jury Charge defines personal goodwill as “the goodwill attributable to an individual’s skill, abilities, and reputation.” For example, a world-renowned chef may make plenty of income through their catering business. Still, that success is attributed to the chef and their culinary skills, not to the general reputation of their catering company.

In Texas, personal goodwill is not taken into consideration in the overall value of a business. In a divorce in Texas, a business is valued as if the seller intends to open up a new business across the street to compete with the company they just sold. How much would you pay for that business? You wouldn’t pay much to run a chef’s catering company without the chef, but you would spend quite a bit to run a Rolex retailer.

When the expert uses the income approach, he or she will most likely apply a personal goodwill discount to the overall valuation. The discount amount is a judgment call by the expert and can often lead to wide variations in value if experts disagree on the amount.

Court Decision
Very few courts will require that the parties continue in the business together, so one spouse typically buys out the other by awarding community property to that spouse and/or with cash payments over time. It is, therefore, critical that the valuation is accurate because it directly determines how much one spouse must pay the other. Unless the business is traded on the stock market, valuations can be very complicated. Often, each side will hire a forensic expert to determine the value of the business.

Courts faced with determining the value of a business may consider both valuations and assign a value to be somewhere between the two numbers given by opposing sides, or they may adopt the value of one over the other.

Sometimes the court will order the sale of the business or the liquidation of retained earnings since that may be the only way to pay out one side or the other. Additionally, cash payments used to buy one spouse out of the business need to be secured against something (typically the business or real property), which requires drafting complicated documents to protect both parties.

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Brian and his staff were great. Brian’s direction and expertise provided me with the legal information relevant for my needs over several years now. He listens and is steadfast which gave me comfort in the courses of action. I highly recommend him.Brian and his staff were great. Brian’s direction and expertise provided me with the legal information...

Larry M.

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