High Asset Divorce

The Impact of Divorce on Executive Compensation Packages and Stock Options

When you’re navigating a high net worth divorce, you’ll face challenges and complex issues that rarely arise in other divorces. In these splits, the division of assets and the topic of spousal support often lead to the most bitter disputes between the divorcing spouses. If one spouse is a high-powered executive, navigating the division of assets and alimony requires even more experience and knowledge. The multiple types of compensation received by executives and the schedule on which they’re paid out can make this step of the process drawn-out and stressful.

It’s crucial to work with an attorney with experience in this type of divorce. Whether you are the executive in this equation or the lower-earning spouse, it’s important to fight for fair and equitable treatment. Call Pence Law Firm at 304-407-7852 to set up a consultation with our team now.

How Executive Compensation is Structured

Executive compensation may be structured in several different ways, depending on the company involved and what the executive in question negotiates for. Elements commonly found in an executive compensation package include:

  • Base salary: Executives do earn a base salary, but in comparison to the rest of what they bring in, it is a relatively small chunk of their income.
  • RSUs and stock options: Restricted stock units, known as RSUs, are shares of company stock given to executives with significant restrictions. Stock options allow an employee or executive to buy stocks at a predetermined price.
  • Bonuses: Bonuses, which are generally dependent on changes made by the executive and the company’s performance as a whole, can be a sizable part of an executive’s income each year.
  • Deferred compensation: Deferred compensation is generally paid out at retirement. It allows the executive to hold off on receiving part of their income until they retire, at which point they will have to pay taxes on it.

It’s clear that these types of income can lead to a drawn out division of assets. It’s easy to determine spousal support, child support, and an equitable division of assets when both parties earn a set annual salary or hourly wage. It’s much harder when their income may change by millions of dollars each year or hinge on the performance of the stock market.

Calculating Executive Compensation

One of the main challenges in this type of divorce is figuring out how much should be paid in child support and spousal support. Again, when there’s an annual salary or hourly wage being paid, it’s just a matter of plugging the numbers in and going from there. But how do you determine what’s fair when the high-earning spouse’s income is split across different assets, stock options that may not vest for years to come, and bonuses that are dependent on future performance?

Your attorney may look at what the executive has actually received in income throughout their time with their company. If they have held that position for a number of years, it’s easier to calculate the average income even with varying bonuses and stock options. The attorneys may also look at the standard of living that both spouses have come to expect, which gives them a guideline of how much the lower-earning or non-working spouse should receive.

For child support, it’s important also to think about the lifestyle that the child is accustomed to. It’s common for children of executives to be enrolled in private school, participate in costly extracurricular activities, and have other expensive needs. The court will likely want the child to maintain that standard of living even after a divorce.

Valuing and Dividing Stock Options

This is a huge hurdle to clear in a high asset divorce. Stock options are often a major part of an executive compensation package, but their terms and value may differ quite a bit. The vesting schedule may come into play, especially if the stocks cannot be purchased or accessed for several years. It’s also important to consider the tax implications of exercising stock options and determine how that may affect their division. When it comes to the valuation of stock options, the Black-Scholes model may be used or your attorney may recommend another option.

Choose Pence Law Firm for the Legal Support You Deserve

As you start to look ahead to life after divorce, make sure you have the financial support you need for a fresh start. Find out how Pence Law Firm can fight for the assets and support you deserve. Call us at 304-407-7852 or get in touch online now.