Until just recently, there were not any California cases on point regarding whether a licensed professional’s book of business (i.e. list of clients) is something of value that should be considered an asset subject to property division during a divorce proceeding. However, the Fourth Appellate District’s recent decision in In re the Marriage of Mark and Rhonda Finby finally shed light on this issue.
In other jurisdictions, courts have held that licensed professionals’ customer lists generally constitute divisible property during a divorce. In the New York case Moll v. Moll, for example, the Court held that clients serviced by a stockbroker constitute a marital asset because the thing of value is the stockbroker’s personal/professional goodwill. Also in the Florida case Reiss v. Reiss, the Court held that clients that were brought to a new securities firm by a stockbroker constitute a marital asset subject to division.
Similar to the holdings in other jurisdictions described above, in the recently published case In re Marriage of Finby the Fourth District California Appellate Court reversed the trial Court’s decision and found that a book of business that a financial advisor developed during the marriage constitutes an asset that has value and is thus subject to division during a divorce proceeding.As background, in In re Marriage of Finby, the Wife worked as a financial advisor and developed a list of clients (who owned over $192 million in investments) during marriage that she referred to as her “book of business”. Wife left her previous employer and went to work for Wells Fargo, who paid her over $2.8 million as a transitional bonus. Although Wife argued that her book of business did not have value because she could not sell it, the Appellate Court found that it was a valuable asset, reasoning that her book of business was essentially consideration for Wife’s transitional bonus. In other words, Wife was granted the option to earn a significant amount of money based on her work during the marriage of acquiring a book of business. The Court further reasoned that Wife’s ability to transfer her book of business by bringing her clients to Wells Fargo is similar to goodwill, like that which is found in the business of other professions (e.g. lawyers and doctors). As a result, the Court found that the community had an interest in a portion of the transitional bonus and remanded it back to the trial court to determine exactly how much of an interest should be apportioned to Husband.
If you or your spouse is a licensed professional, such as a financial advisor, and you want to understand your rights regarding division of assets during a divorce, please contact our experienced attorneys. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.