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Divorcing when your spouse is also your business partner

March 05, 2021  |   Posted by :   |   Divorce

Around 1.4 million couples in the UK are also joint owners of a company, but when you are partners in business as well as marriage there can be added complications if your relationship comes to an end.

For couples who own a business together, their finances, assets, and future employment may all be tied up in the company, making splitting things fairly somewhat complex. It’s common for spouses to be 50/50 shareholders but divorces don’t always result in a 50/50 split, and sometimes decisions about what happens to a business after separation cross over from family law into corporate law.

There are, of course, many variables when it comes to dealing with a business in divorce—some situations may be relatively straightforward to sort out, while others will need expert advice.

For example, if one partner is simply named as a director or shareholder as a point of convenience but not really involved in the running of the business or drawing any income or dividends then it may be relatively easy to remove them from the company and look at balancing up any financial imbalances using other assets, such as property.

There may however be more complicated issues when it comes to a larger company that has stock, property, and a significant turnover and profit. First it will need to be valued, and then each spouse’s involvement in the business will need to taken into account.

If both spouses are working for the business, then potentially difficult decisions will have to be made regarding the transfer of shares and ownership. If one partner leaves the company, the other may need to raise a lump sum or forego other assets in order to buy them out. There may also be tax issues, and as directors both spouses could end up being liable for debts even after leaving or closing the business.

When there is no majority owner, critical business decisions need to be mutual. As hard as it may be with all the added emotional side of divorce, it’s important to try to be objective about the financial side of things and collaborate as much as possible. Protracted litigation over business issues is only going to end up costing you more money, time and stress in the long run—you may even run the risk of sending the company into deadlock if your disputes continue. And if you have employees, you have a responsibility to them to get things sorted as amicably and smoothly as you can to minimise disruption and loss of income.

And, in some cases, it is also possible to separate and retain joint ownership of a business.

In all instances, it can be helpful to consider your business as a child—you created it together, built and nurtured it together, and invested a lot of time, care (and money!) in its wellbeing—so you owe it to your company and your partnership to try to get the best outcome for all involved.

The key is to find a solicitor who has the expertise to deal with the potential cross-disciplinary issues of business law and family law, as there will be many areas where your finances, personal assets, and future considerations impact on one another, and anything you decide must be in line with your duties within the company. Much like running a business together, you will need to compromise, communicate, and think creatively and objectively to find a resolution that suits both of you—and your company.

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