FAQ: High net worth Illinois divorce

If you are in a high-net worth family and you are getting divorced in Illinois, this FAQ on high net worth divorce might be useful. Maybe you’ve heard nightmares about your neighbors and family spending a fortune fighting their cases – and you are worried. As a divorce lawyer for high net worth individuals, I’m also interested in efficiency and avoiding waste. That’s not true for all divorce lawyers in Illinois. You can text or call 312-554-5433 to get started now, or contact us here. Or read on for the FAQ about high net worth Illinois divorce.

Who are the best divorce lawyers for high net worth divorce in Illinois?

People seems to have the misperception that a high net worth divorce requires hiring a lawyer from one of a handful of firms. For example, high net worth people from Winnetka, Lake Forest, and Highland Park often hire a divorce lawyer form one of four law firms. The same could be said for places like Elmhurst and Hinsdale.

However, make no doubt about it – those firms are necessarily the best fit for a high net worth divorce in the Chicago area. The problems you will likely encounter by hiring a firm with a downtown office and fancy furniture include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. High hourly rates for lawyers: Their hourly rates can be $400 and up, even for a lawyer with only several years of experience.
  2. Crappy “Associates” doing most of the work: Many law firms are kind of like pyramid schemes. The people on the top make money off the people below them. For example, suppose an associate at major divorce law firm is billing a total of $600,000 per year, but earning $125,000. Where do you think the other $475,000 goes? Sure, Uncle Sam gets a piece, but the equity partners get the rest. That means that the people in charge at those law firms have a lot to gain by farming out work to their associates. Many of the associates are a joke. They make terrible arguments, have little experience, and often get jobs at those firms because of connections which simply help the law firm get more business. Do you want an associate attorney going to court for your without any past experience leading a case that’s actually been heavily litigated? If you do, I have a bridge to sell you.
  3. Absurd billing: Many big law firms have perfected the art of billing. They love to have their paralegals recycle letters they’ve used before, only to bill you as if Shakespeare wrote the letter himself. Yes, many divorce lawyers love a good ol’ $500 letter. Oh, and you know what else they like to do? They love to bill people for having internal meetings. For example, an associate meeting with a paralegal, a paralegal meeting with an associate and a partner, the partner meeting with the paralegal to talk about the meeting with the associate. You get the point.
  4. Bullshit awards: Check most law firm websites, and you will see they like to make a big deal about different awards they’ve received. But seriously, most of those awards are bullshit. Some people get awards simply because they were offered one in exchange for a “fee.” There are other awards that are basically popularity contests – it doesn’t mean the award recipient is actually a good lawyer, and won’t rake you over the coals with absurd billing. The big firms and others basically vote each other in to the awards, then the can all feel fancy. I’ve literally seen some of the most horrible, dishonest and worthless lawyers with awards that many clients think actually mean something. What a joke.

What are some issues in high net worth divorce?

Often, high net worth individuals think their divorce is more complicated than it really is. What makes a high net worth divorce complicated is not the amount of money involved, but the structure of the parties’ finances.

A high net worth divorce in Illinois often involves the following topics: spousal maintenance (aka “alimony”), dividing assets and debts, valuing and dividing/selling real estate, funding children’s educations, allocation of parental responsibilities (aka “custody”), and other topics.

What are the types of high net worth divorce in Illinois?

In my opinion, there are “simple” high net wroth divorces, and “complex” ones as well.

Simple High Net Worth Divorce

In a “simple” nigh net worth divorce, the structure of the spouses’ finances is simple. For example, they have W2 jobs, a 401k or two, some bank accounts, some credit cars, a house, a mortgage. An estate worth multiple millions can be just as simple as a case with two 25-year-old people, married 2 years, and grossing $100k annually and renting an apartment in Lakeview.

If you are a high net worth person and you are getting divorced in Illinois – and you have a “simple” high net worth divorce, you’re setting yourself up for giant and unnecessary legal bills if you hire one of the big firms. Keep in mind that owning an expensive house doesn’t make your divorce complex. But if you are thinking about real estate in a divorce, you might want to check out this article about dealing with a house in divorce.

Complex High Net Worth Divorce

Some high net worth cases are more complex. For example, if one of the parties is a business owner, owns multiple income properties, has complicated compensation involving options and deferred compensation, one or more of the spouses has been shifting money around while trying to hide it, and that sort thing.

If you have a complex high net worth divorce, maybe you should hire a big law firm. But get ready for a lawyer billing $500/hr or more, and total attorneys’ fees of $100k or more. How do you think the big downtown law firms afford the fancy offices they don’t need?

What makes a high net worth divorce get really expensive?

Fancy downtown lawyers salivate when someone with a multimillion dollar estate walks into their office. . . they know they can bill the client $40k before the client realizes that billing is the lawyer’s primary skill!

But suppose you actually find a lawyer who isn’t trying to rip you off. Your divorce can still become vary expensive. Here are some of the things that make an Illinois high net worth divorce very expensive:

  • Stupidity: You or your spouse might be stupid. I bet you don’t think you are stupid. Okay, let’s say that’s true. But you also might not want to think you spouse is stupid. Would you marry a stupid person? Well, let me tell you something – a ton of divorce are a complete mess because one of the people is so stupid that they inefficiently spend money fighting in court. Yes, it happens all the time. There are many lawyer’s houses in Hinsdale and Lake Forest to prove it.
  • Personality disorders: If you or your spouse has a personality disorder, you divorce will probably be a dumpster fire. I’m just keeping it real. I don’t mean to be insensitive to people with personality disorders – they often have a hard time. But I am stating that, in my experience, personality disorders among wealthy people are a fantastic help to lawyers who want to generate massive bills.
  • Complicated compensation: Some executives and business owners have very complicated compensation plans. Determining the present value can be difficult, and might involve the use of experts. That sort of thing can be time consuming, an expensive.
  • Business ownership: If one or both spouses own a business, and the business was started during the parties’ marriage, than the business is part of the “marital estate,” and is therefore divisible in a divorce. Two spouses might disagree about the value of the business. To determine the value, each spouse might hire a business valuation expert. If you are looking at such a scenario, you likely will be spending a small fortune on lawyers.
  • Multiple streams of varying income: Many income streams can make a divorce more complicated. I’m not talking about a W2 job and some dividends on a 1099. But it does start getting more complicated when people have multipole jobs, rental properties, own business, have various exotic investments, etc.
  • Hiding/wasting money: If one of the spouse is hiding or wasting money, things can get complicated. In fact, a forensic accountant might be necessary. Often, spouses trying to hide money will move money back and forth between multiple accounts to create a confusing money trial, and they also withdraw cash over long periods of time. If money has been spent on a “nonmarital purpose” by a spouse without the other having knowledge, the spouse who spent the money might have “dissipated” marital funds, and might have to pay back the other spouse. But proving dissipation can be time consuming, and expensive. Also, often people do not admit to dissipating, so proving dissipation can require a trial. Trials are very expensive.

What if I want a lawyer at a big firm?

Suppose you are convinced you need a lawyer at a big firm. Don’t ask you neighbor or family member who to hire! They probably have no idea if the lawyer they know is actually any good. If they hired the lawyer themselves, they might only be happy because the good results they achieved were wholly predictable, or because they got lucky with a judge.

If you do want a referral to a lawyer at a big firm, contact me here. I’ll be happy to send you the contact info of a couple people who I think aren’t total ripoff artists.

About the author: Contact Illinois family law attorney David Wolkowitz at 312-554-5433 or online. He is a family law and divorce attorney serving Chicago and the Counties of Cook, Champaign, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will. Areas of practice include divorce, uncontested divorce, child custody, visitation, spousal maintenance, child support, and the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction & Enforcement Act (the “UCCJEA”).