KRISTI ANDERSON WELLS

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Headshot of Kristi Wells.

How are vested and unvested stock rights treated in a Colorado divorce?

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so stock rates is a general term that

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encompasses a lot of different types of

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equity compensation things like stock

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options restricted stock restricted

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stock units sometimes we see Phantom

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stock rights or stock appreciation

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rights all of those are forms of

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executive compensation and all of them

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can be very complex and very different

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there’s no uh format that’s sort of

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generally governs those rights although

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the Internal Revenue code does play into

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it but every single plan is different

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every award agreement is different and

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the difficulty is in Colorado vesting is

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not determinative when you’re looking at

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whether or not a stock right is marital

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property so everyone comes into my

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office and says I don’t have to worry

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about the stock options they’re not

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vested yet so once they vest we’ll

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already be divorced and it’s my separate

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property the law in Colorado is very

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clear that vesting is not determinative

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so instead we have to look to the

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contract the plan document any

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amendments any award agreements

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sometimes it’s in the employment

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agreement sometimes in the severance

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agreement we have to look at the

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contract that provides the benefit and

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determine whether there’s a presently

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enforceable right if there’s a presently

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enforceable right regardless of whether

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or not the stock rate is vested you’ve

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got marital property now I’m getting

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into what forms it presently enforceable

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right it’s a very long and involved

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process but it really boils down to are

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there any circumstances under the plan

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where the person who’s received the

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award could get the stock right before

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investing is there a provision that says

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they can get it if they die or they

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become disabled during the vesting

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period sometimes there are Provisions

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that say if there’s a change in control

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of the corporation during the vesting

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period their vesting will accelerate

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those sorts of Provisions that provide

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that people can get that award before

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the end of the vesting period will

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create property in Colorado and we have

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to address that and unfortunately

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there’s no formula you have to read

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those documents and understand what they

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say in order to determine whether or not

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there’s property right

What philosophy guides your work as a Colorado lawyer?

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the philosophy that guides my work as a

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lawyer is truly sort of the legal

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Hippocratic Oath which is first let’s

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not do harm to any of these families we

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have a duty as attorneys to zealously

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Advocate on behalf of our clients but

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that doesn’t mean that we have to

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increase conflict through our

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correspondence with the other side or

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through the way that we plead in our

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pleadings we can use a professional tone

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we can behave in a manner that doesn’t

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take people to the next level and I

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really think that that’s probably the

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best way to describe my view of how we

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should be practicing divorce

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foreign

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well I mean I’ve been lucky enough to

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have a number of mentors and I’m hopeful

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that they’ll all know that I’m thinking

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of them right now but I was really lucky

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in two ways in the collaborative

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practice my former partner Ann gussers

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who’s now retired from litigation and is

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working as a neutral over at jams

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it’s probably the smartest person I know

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as a lawyer and her focus on children

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and what’s best for children on how to

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keep families progressing forward even

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where divorce occurs was really

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something that meant a lot to me and

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she’s one of the founders of

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collaborative practice in Denver and and

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we’re really all Lucky that she was here

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and advocating for a different way of

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making divorces happen

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and then most recently I was really

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lucky to practice a couple years with

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Bill Honeycutt before he passed bill was

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the Godfather of divorce in Colorado and

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if there was a multi-million or billion

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dollar case going on in Colorado bill

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was usually on one side of it and he was

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sort of again a person who created a

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practice that while it was litigation

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oriented and while he was a tough

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litigator and an incredible advocate he

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was always a gentleman and his practice

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really embodied that Spirit of not

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creating conflict where it didn’t have

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to occur

From Kristi’s interview for the Masters of Family Law series on ReelLawyers.com.

Kristi Anderson Wells brings many years of experience in the areas of taxation, benefits and executive compensation to the practice of family law. Her practice exists at the intersection of these areas of law, focusing on complex financial issues such as trusts, premarital agreements, business interests, executive compensation, retirement assets, and stock rights in divorce. Kristi writes and speaks regularly on complex divorce issues. Most recently, Kristi authored The Executive Compensation Handbook: Stock Option Awards, Restricted Stock Grants, Cash Bonuses, Incentives, and Other Non-Qualified Deferred Compensation in Divorce, published by the American Bar Association.

Kristi’s goal is to provide her clients with a balance of advocacy and sound practical advice. When going through a divorce – one of the most difficult times in anyone’s life – people need compassionate representation, guidance from someone who can weigh the costs and benefits of pursuing a legal remedy, help in reaching a mutually-agreeable resolution, and strong advocacy when the situation warrants it. Child-focused and committed to minimizing the kind of collateral damage that can accompany dissolution actions, Kristi works diligently to assist her clients in attaining positive outcomes for themselves and their children. She is also trained as a collaborative divorce attorney.

Kristi has been designated as a Colorado “Super Lawyer” since 2015.


CREDENTIALS

Education

  • Bachelor of Arts: 1994, University of Washington (Journalism), magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa
  • Juris Doctor (J.D.): 1997, University of Washington School of Law, with honors
  • Master of Laws (LL.M.): 1998, University of Washington School of Law (Federal Taxation)
  • Admitted to Bar:
    • 1998, Washington (inactive)
    • 1999, Maine (inactive)
    • 2007, Colorado

Memberships

  • American Bar Association (Family Law Section; Taxation Section)
  • Colorado Bar Association (Family Law Section)
  • Academy for Collaborative Divorce Professionals, Fellow
  • Colorado Collaborative Divorce Professionals, Past President
  • Colorado Bar Association, Family Law Executive Council
Kristi Anderson Wells - Recognized by Best Lawyers - 2024