There are over 2 million businesses in the United States that are owned by a husband and wife. And because a significant percentage of marriages end in divorce, the family business all too often becomes an additional source of stress for divorcing spouses. As a professional divorce mediator, I have mediated numerous divorces involving a business partnership, and I can tell you that the process need not be stressful, if you adopt the right approach.
Like any other issue that needs to be addressed during the divorce, it is important to discuss each spouse’s point of view and where they see the business post-divorce. Here are some questions to ask:
Do you want to Save the Business?
For some couples, the reality is they are simply not compatible as marriage partners. However, this may not be the case when it comes to the business. Many couples that I have counseled have a thriving business with well-defined roles for each spouse. If your business is successful, generally it is worth saving, regardless of your personal differences. In other words, if you can dissolve your marriage amicably, you can find a way to remain successful business partners.
What if One Spouse Wants to Leave the Business?
There are some situations in which one spouse/business partner has less of a role in the business than the other. For example, there are many professional practices wherein one spouse is the licensed practitioner and the other is a secretary, bookkeeper, or maintains another type of subservient role. In cases when the spouses are not equal partners, it might be more difficult for both to remain in the business.
Do you have outside Partners that Need to Be Mollified?
Some spouses are involved together in a business that has other owners outside the family. This creates an additional layer of complexity to the divorce proceeding. In such cases, it is important to decide if both spouses can continue working together under these circumstances. For example, if the other partners are mostly friends with just one spouse, the other may not feel comfortable remaining involved with the business.
Putting all Options on the Table
One of the major advantages of business mediation is the ability to develop creative solutions to difficult issues such as business partnerships. Mediation is not an adversarial procedure; it is about building consensus, finding issues you can agree upon, and moving forward with this important transition in your lives. When I meet with couples/business partners, I ask that they put their emotions aside, remain open minded, and consider all reasonable options. Typically, after a few sessions together free of distractions, we are able to craft a resolution that preserves the business (if you want it preserved) and gives you the freedom to move forward into the next chapter of your personal lives.