Kristi Anderson Wells


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

so stock rates is a general term that

encompasses a lot of different types of

equity compensation things like stock

options restricted stock restricted

stock units sometimes we see Phantom

stock rights or stock appreciation

rights all of those are forms of

executive compensation and all of them

can be very complex and very different

there’s no uh format that’s sort of

generally governs those rights although

the Internal Revenue code does play into

it but every single plan is different

every award agreement is different and

the difficulty is in Colorado vesting is

not determinative when you’re looking at

whether or not a stock right is marital

property so everyone comes into my

office and says I don’t have to worry

about the stock options they’re not

vested yet so once they vest we’ll

already be divorced and it’s my separate

property the law in Colorado is very

clear that vesting is not determinative

so instead we have to look to the

contract the plan document any

amendments any award agreements

sometimes it’s in the employment

agreement sometimes in the severance

agreement we have to look at the

contract that provides the benefit and

determine whether there’s a presently

enforceable right if there’s a presently

enforceable right regardless of whether

or not the stock rate is vested you’ve

got marital property now I’m getting

into what forms it presently enforceable

right it’s a very long and involved

process but it really boils down to are

there any circumstances under the plan

where the person who’s received the

award could get the stock right before

investing is there a provision that says

they can get it if they die or they

become disabled during the vesting

period sometimes there are Provisions

that say if there’s a change in control

of the corporation during the vesting

period their vesting will accelerate

those sorts of Provisions that provide

that people can get that award before

the end of the vesting period will

create property in Colorado and we have

to address that and unfortunately

there’s no formula you have to read

those documents and understand what they

say in order to determine whether or not

there’s property right


the philosophy that guides my work as a

lawyer is truly sort of the legal

Hippocratic Oath which is first let’s

not do harm to any of these families we

have a duty as attorneys to zealously

Advocate on behalf of our clients but

that doesn’t mean that we have to

increase conflict through our

correspondence with the other side or

through the way that we plead in our

pleadings we can use a professional tone

we can behave in a manner that doesn’t

take people to the next level and I

really think that that’s probably the

best way to describe my view of how we

should be practicing divorce


well I mean I’ve been lucky enough to

have a number of mentors and I’m hopeful

that they’ll all know that I’m thinking

of them right now but I was really lucky

in two ways in the collaborative

practice my former partner Ann gussers

who’s now retired from litigation and is

working as a neutral over at jams

it’s probably the smartest person I know

as a lawyer and her focus on children

and what’s best for children on how to

keep families progressing forward even

where divorce occurs was really

something that meant a lot to me and

she’s one of the founders of

collaborative practice in Denver and and

we’re really all Lucky that she was here

and advocating for a different way of

making divorces happen

and then most recently I was really

lucky to practice a couple years with

Bill Honeycutt before he passed bill was

the Godfather of divorce in Colorado and

if there was a multi-million or billion

dollar case going on in Colorado bill

was usually on one side of it and he was

sort of again a person who created a

practice that while it was litigation

oriented and while he was a tough

litigator and an incredible advocate he

was always a gentleman and his practice

really embodied that Spirit of not

creating conflict where it didn’t have

to occur

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

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.



  • 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


  • 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 recognied by Best Lawyers 2024