Tips for divorcing spouses who work in family-owned businesses

Millions of spouses work together across the country as co-owners of varied businesses.

And millions of those marital and business partners divorce.

What is the ideal outcome for a family-owned business where ex-spouses toil side by side when divorce becomes the required solution for a soured marriage?

Should they stay together as business partners? Should they sell the business? Should one buy out the other?

Michelle Crosby, the co-founder and chief executive officer of a company that seeks to help couples avoid rancor in the divorce process, provides an answer that probably surprises very few people in Georgia or elsewhere: There is no right or wrong answer, with what works best varying in any given case.

Crosby knows what she is talking about, since she operates her business — Wevorce, a mediation-driven company — right alongside her former spouse, who is the company’s chief executive officer. As an article describing Wevorce notes, that arrangement calls into play the complexities of “an evolving relationship with an ex,” which can indeed be, well, complex.

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and that is a point that Crosby seeks to make. She says that, regardless of outcomes, there are several things that should be thought about during a divorce process regarding a family business where spouses work closely together. They centrally include the following:

  • The need to create boundaries that clearly separate business from personal matters
  • The need to involve a professional support team, which might optimally include a seasoned attorney and mediator with business experience
  • The need to step back and take a break, letting time do its work
  • The need to clearly establish business roles

Crosby also emphasizes the importance of noting that nothing ever needs to be permanently carved in stone regarding who has what title and who attends to what tasks. Fundamentally, that means that ex-spouses continuing to work together should understand that company roles and positions can — and perhaps should — evolve over time.

Source: Entrepreneur, “If you run a company together, what happens when you divorce?” Kate Taylor, Feb. 25, 2014

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