The business you and your spouse co-founded and run together is thriving.
Your marriage? That's another matter.
Our Birmingham divorce lawyers know that such scenarios are not uncommon. Even in cases where two friends or associates go into business together, relationships can sour even when the company is doing well.
Many people put off filing in these situations because they fear it will mean the end of the company. It doesn't necessarily have to be, particularly if you have a lawyer who is sensitive to the fact that you two still need to cooperate and that it will take a careful approach in untangling your financial ties, while still keeping the business alive.
A Census Bureau estimate from 2007 found that nearly 4 million businesses in the U.S. are operated by husband and wife. When we start to factor in the high rates of divorce – which are up to 50 percent or more – this kind of situation is more prevalent than you might think.
But there is no question that is can be a difficult situation. Although it may initially seem like an uphill battle, it can work. It depends a lot on the individual couple, the structure and health of the company and the skill of your divorce attorneys.
Some things to bear in mind:
- Respect each other. This can be tough, especially if the underlying reasons for the split were particularly painful. In some cases, if there is zero trust left there can be zero respect, and it may be best to cut ties. But in many situations, it's simply a matter of two people having fallen out of love. It doesn't lessen your respect for the other person, and if you can maintain that, you can probably still continue to run the business together.
- Know when to get help. Unlike a lot of exes, those who operate a business together have to see each other, sometimes regularly or daily, after the divorce is finalized. You both need to decide upfront whether this is something you think you can do. Even if you choose to continue the status quo at work, you may need to consider reaching out for some additional emotional support, in the form of a therapist, perhaps, to help you maintain perspective – and your sanity. This can also help you to work through separating business matters from personal hurts. This is probably going to be critical to the success of the firm, or at least the continued arrangement wherein you both work together.
- Create an agreement. This is an important legal step that most married couples haven't undergone when they found the business. The agreement stipulates what will occur in the event someone wants to sell. It's a common step in the formation of a business, but most married couples skip it because they anticipate always working together with the same goals. When they go through a divorce, there is a recognition that those goals may differ. Getting it legal in writing is important.
- Sit down and discuss the situation with your employees. They will obviously know what is happening, and what you don't want to happen is for them to choose sides. That can cause a deep rift in the firm that can slow recovery and progress. Work together to come up with a common narrative, reassure your workers that your personal issues won't be affecting the business (or if they will, specify in what ways might be relevant to them). You don't need to get into all the gritty details. Mostly, workers need to hear that their jobs are going to be safe.
We also recognize that in some cases, the pair may have no interest in continuing to work together. In these situations, it's important that you have a good lawyer who can help you to determine the value of the company and the share each spouse should expect to receive.
If you are contemplating a divorce in Birmingham, contact Family Law Attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.
When Couples Divorce but Still Run a Business Together, Dec. 5, 2012, By Bryan Borzykowski, The New York Times