Working Together After Divorce

Millions of couples work together. Unfortunately, with half of all marriages ending in divorce, many family businesses can end up entangled in the separation process. If people want to keep working together after divorce, there are steps they can take to make success more likely.

  1. Agree Now About the Business Structure. Agree on the general structure as part of the separation process, but work with your attorneys to keep the flexibility you need.
  2. Meet Regularly. Your communications have probably suffered during the divorce process. Establish regular meetings, with formal agendas that you generate together, so that the day-to-day concerns of running the business are broken down into manageable pieces. Consider speaking with a conflict coach to bridge communication styles.
  3. Formalize Responsibilities. In most small businesses, everyone helps to do many tasks other than those that require specialized skills. After divorce, you may need to clarify lines of responsibility in order to reduce conflict and to make sure things do not slip through the cracks. You may even need to adjust your titles.
  4. Have a Difficult Conversation About Ownership. Your business is a marital asset that can be divided in the divorce. The starting place in the negotiation is that if you created a business together each of you will be entitled to half its value. However, if one person is going to be putting in significantly more time or effort than the other post-divorce, most couples find it fair to give that person extra ownership or compensation.
  5. Make Finances Transparent. You are best off treating accounting and finances as if you were unrelated people without a history together. Speak with your accountant about setting up the right internal procedures and make sure you both get regular reports about how the business is doing.
  6. Rejuvenate the Business. Divorce can damage a business. Communications may have broken down, which means that everything from big-picture strategy to servicing customers may have slipped. Also, given the uncertainty surrounding the process, people may have been tempted along the way to postpone making some sales or improvements until after the split is finalized, or even to reduce the value of the company to reduce payments to the other spouse. With time and effort, you can rejuvenate the business. Working together toward a common goal may help repair the frayed work relationship between former spouses.

The separation process is difficult enough in itself, but restructuring a family business can be a divorce within a divorce. The issues are often tied to people’s identities and interwoven with every other aspect of people’s lives. Although the decisions on how to move forward can be some of the most difficult in the whole divorce, people do it. If you want to keep working together after the dust settles, there are ways to smooth the path. Do not get discouraged by the picture immediately following the divorce decree!

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