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Are Stock Options Marital Property in a West Virginia Divorce?

Divorce can be an incredibly complex and mentally demanding process. If you’re going through a high-asset divorce, you may also be struggling with the division of complex and valuable assets. In particular, stock options awarded as part of one spouse’s employment or their role as an executive officer can be difficult to divide fairly.

If you’re wondering how your or your spouse’s stock options may be handled during divorce, it’s important to explore your options and next steps with the team at Pence Law Firm. Call us at 304-345-7250 to set up a consultation right away.

The Timing of the Stock Options

A huge part of determining whether or not stock options are marital property is their timing. You’ll have to look at the documentation regarding when the stock options were granted. For example, if the individual received stock options prior to getting married, it’s possible that those stocks will be considered separate property—but that’s not guaranteed. We’ll discuss complicating factors below.

If stock options were awarded to one party during the marriage, it’s more likely that those stocks would be considered marital property and would be divided equitably between both spouses as outlined under West Virginia law.

Even if stock options are considered separate property because they were awarded prior to marriage, they may ultimately become marital property if they increase substantially in value during the marriage. Consider, for example, a CEO with extensive stock options. Many of their stocks were granted prior to marriage. However, after getting married, they made major changes within the company that led to the stocks increasing dramatically in value. The other spouse may claim that this increase in value was due to their work at home which allowed their spouse to focus more on their work.

The Vesting Schedule of the Stock Options

However, it’s more complicated than that. You can’t just look at when the stock options were granted—you must also consider when the stock options became fully vested. The vesting schedule refers to when the employee in question is permitted to exercise those stock options. 

For example, if an employee receives a set number of stock options and a percentage becomes vested after two years, the employee can only actually access the partial value of those stocks after two years. 

As you may imagine, this becomes complicated if the marriage ends before all stocks become vested. If the employee has stock options that fully vest over a period of five years but divorces their partner three years in, the court may determine that 60% of the stock options are marital property. This becomes even more complex if the employee receives stock options each year as part of their bonus or general compensation, as each year’s set of stock options will be vested at different levels at the time of divorce.

The Role of the Stock Options in Employment

Another factor you must consider is why the employee receives the stock options in the first place. Perhaps the spouse in question is an executive who made cost-saving cuts during the year. As a reward for their efforts, they receive stock options as part of their year-end bonus. These stock options are compensation for work already completed.

In another example, an employee is working for a startup. The pay is lower than market standards, so in order to encourage employee retention, employees receive stock options that they can only exercise if they stay with the company for a set period of time. In this scenario, the stock options may be considered compensation for future work.

The reason you receive stock options may determine whether or not they are marital property. If they are compensated for work already completed and that work occurred during the marriage, those stock options could arguably be considered marital property. If the stock options are granted during the marriage but they are compensation for work completed after divorce, they may be viewed as separate property.

Facing Divorce? Contact Pence Law Firm Today

This is clearly a complicated and multifaceted issue in your Charleston divorce, so it’s important to explore your specific situation with a family law attorney. Set up a consultation with Pence Law Firm now by calling us at 304-345-7250 or reaching out to us online.