I just had a case that ended last week. I didn’t do anything amazing in that case other than give my client sound advice that she needed to hire a business evaluator, because this was either a second or third marriage on her husband’s part and she was marrying a man who would had a very successful business since 1975 and she didn’t marry him until the year 2000 although they had been together for several years before that.
I recognized right away that the business was going to have a premarital component and a marital component and only an expert would be able to determine what was what. I advised my client we need to hire a business evaluator and he’s going to actually have to do two different evaluations; he’s going to have to do one for the years with premarital and then another one for marital.
It got pretty expensive, but the court made the husband fund the money because he was the one that had all the income, and originally we had offered to pay for half of the business evaluator’s upfront fee just so we can get it underway, and the husband refused so we had to go to court on that motion alone and so the judge was so ticked off at that point that he just ordered the husband to pay for it all. So, we hired a very well-respected business valuator who had the credentials but he also was reasonably priced and we got him involved right away and he was able to get the information that he needed.
It wasn’t easy because the husband wasn’t very forthcoming on some of the things he was doing but eventually he did and we had the numbers that were in black and white to present to the judge and at that point, the other side really couldn’t argue very much about the marital component of the business. Had we not hired this expert to come in and be able to give us this very important financial data, my client wouldn’t have stood a chance to get any equity out of the business because of course the burden would be on us to prove that there was a marital component.
The husband maintained from the beginning, “It’s pre-marital property, it was created when she was only 5 years old,” and that was his argument at the time, so they just wanted us to ignore the whole part that there was a very important marital component. My client got one-half of the marital portion of the business and I didn’t do anything as far as pulling rabbits out of hats or anything like that but I just knew the steps that needed to be taken to be able to get the information we needed and to present that as a whole with an entire marital state.
What Are the Complexities Involved with Asset Distribution in a Divorce?
There are very basic businesses that need evaluations and then there are very complex business that need evaluations, but one interesting area to note is that we are seeing more disputes over pets, because they are considered property even though we don’t like to think of them as property because they’re like members of the family. Right now, however, the courts consider them property.
I know of a dog custody case that is going on in New York. It was going on recently and if it’s concluded, I haven’t heard the outcome, but it’s being conducted just like a child custody trial where there’s a guardian appointed for the dogs. Some people think that’s crazy but for people that love animals, these are very serious issues.
You’re going to be seeing more and more dogs and cats and horses being disputed in divorce cases, especially if the people don’t have any children. It tends to be a very big focus for people that don’t have children, because animals are basically their children, or you have empty nesters whose children have grown and have lives of their own, so now the couple is focused on dogs.
I didn’t handle this case recently but I had a friend tell me that he had a jury trial, where, it wasn’t just possession of the dogs but that was one of the issues the jury had to decide. There were two huskies and the jury returned the verdict for him and it awarded one dog to each person but it didn’t say which dog.
After the trial was over, then there was a whole different legal proceeding on who got what dog because of course both parties wanted both dogs. They didn’t want the dogs split up so whichever dog the other one got suddenly that was the one the other person wanted and I don’t know how that wound up being resolved.
Things like custody issues over pets that we would have thought were unthinkable even 10 years ago are becoming the norm. Now that gay marriage is something that’s legal, it’s going to be more of an issue with those cases too because a lot of gay couples don’t have children and their dogs are their babies.
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