Before a financial settlement on divorce can be finalised, both parties must give full and frank disclosure of their financial resources. This includes assets held in this country and overseas. The existence of offshore assets can add an additional layer of complexity to financial negotiations. Furthermore, it is important to remain aware of the potential for sophisticated ownership structures to be used to disguise wealth to reduce the assets available for distribution.
If you and/or your spouse hold assets offshore, this may create particular issues for any financial settlement on divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership. To speak to us about this or any other aspect of family law, simply call us on 0345 872 6666 or complete our online enquiry form to let us know a suitable time to contact you. We are more than happy to respond to any queries you might have.
How Can JMW Help?
At JMW, we pride ourselves on providing bespoke, client-focused advice tailored to the intricacies of each individual case. Dealing with offshore assets in a divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership is a complex task that requires specialised knowledge and experience.
Our solicitors have an in-depth understanding of the difficulties associated with dealing with offshore assets in divorce proceedings. We can offer you advice on the enforceability of UK court orders in foreign jurisdictions and can help trace and identify offshore assets held in various jurisdictions. We're proficient in investigating complex ownership structures, working closely with forensic accountants when necessary.
Accurate valuation of offshore assets is crucial for fair financial settlement. We collaborate with experts in property and asset valuation to determine the true value of assets held abroad.
We can guide you through the often complex tax implications that arise when transferring offshore assets as part of a financial settlement. Our network of taxation and accountancy professionals can offer specialist advice to ensure that all tax liabilities are understood and accounted for.
About Offshore Assets
The expression ‘offshore assets’ can describe a number of different situations, which raise unique issues. An asset may be physically located outside England and Wales, for example, a Spanish holiday property or jewellery in a safe deposit box abroad. In other cases, assets may be held by a financial institution located abroad, such as money in a foreign bank account or an offshore pension plan.
Corporate and personal wealth may also be held using complex trust and/or shell company structures that span multiple jurisdictions, often with the aim of reducing potential tax liability, sometimes legally, and sometimes illegally.
What Types of Offshore Assets Can JMW Help People With in Financial Settlements?
We regularly assist our clients with a broad range of offshore assets, including but not limited to:
- Foreign bank accounts
- Overseas property
- Foreign pension schemes
- Investment portfolios
- Business interests
- Offshore trusts and inheritances
- Art and collectibles
- Intellectual property
Particular Issues with Offshore Assets and Divorce
Just because assets are held offshore does not mean that a person is trying to deceive either their spouse or civil partner, or HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). We understand that assets located or owned in other jurisdictions may require a different approach from assets held in the UK and, on occasion, the involvement of other professionals.
Different countries have different taxation regimes. Accordingly, there may be hidden tax liabilities associated with the transfer of property held abroad that will need to be explored before both parties can gain a full picture. Tax liabilities here in the UK may also arise if offshore assets are to be repatriated in order to satisfy a financial settlement. At JMW, we have excellent links with taxation and accountancy experts who can assist where taxation is likely to be an issue.
Pension plans in other countries can present specific problems. What might be a perfectly sensible approach to a UK pension could be entirely inappropriate for a pension scheme located abroad. In many cases, the order of a UK court is unenforceable against a foreign pension scheme. Consideration therefore needs to be given to a different approach to the scheme and/or crafting a settlement that is fair to both parties without requiring the division of a pension outside the jurisdiction of the English courts.
Complex Ownership Structures
Revelations from the Panama Papers and other similar leaks have highlighted the lengths some individuals will go to in order to conceal their wealth and sources of income from the tax authorities and potential ex-spouses.
Whether a person has been engaged in a legitimate (but complicated) tax-saving exercise or has used the greater degree of secrecy available in certain territories in order to hide assets, the situation will need to be assessed carefully to ensure that the ownership of assets is understood thoroughly and that nothing ‘slips through the net’. Where it is proportionate to do so, we will work closely with a forensic accountant to analyse complex assets and investigate their ownership fully.
Why Choose JMW?
Our solicitors have experience of dealing with substantial assets held in a wide range of jurisdictions. We have the expertise to help trace the ownership of assets held via trust and corporate vehicles and the ability to take decisive action to safeguard assets that could otherwise be concealed or dissipated.
Due to JMW's successes across various areas of law, it has been recognised as a top UK law firm by prestigious guides such as The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners. With our experience in working with clients of high net worth, you can be confident in our ability to secure your finances and protect your interests during a divorce.
FAQs About Offshore Income and Assets
What is an offshore asset?
An offshore asset is any form of financial or physical property that is held, registered or located in a jurisdiction outside of the UK. This could include a range of items such as foreign bank accounts, overseas property, business interests in other countries and investment portfolios managed by financial institutions based abroad. Offshore assets can also involve more complex forms of ownership, like trusts or shell companies, often set up in jurisdictions known for favourable tax treatment.
Is reducing tax liability with offshore assets illegal?
Reducing tax liability through the use of offshore assets isn't illegal, provided it is done within the bounds of the law that the UK tax resident is held to. Many individuals and businesses use offshore accounts, trusts or companies for legitimate tax planning purposes, often taking advantage of lower tax rates or more favourable business conditions in foreign jurisdictions. UK law permits various forms of international tax planning, provided they are compliant with both UK tax regulations and those of the jurisdiction in which the asset is held.
However, it becomes illegal when offshore assets are used to hide income or deceive the authorities, including HMRC. Tax evasion is a criminal offence and can result in severe penalties, including fines and imprisonment. Therefore, it's vital to ensure that any offshore financial arrangements are transparent, declared to the tax authorities, and fully compliant with the law.