Business owners have additional concerns in divorce. Among those concerns are keeping your business healthy financially and personally, keeping business information confidential and keeping business decisions within the control of the owners. No business owner wants a divorce to negatively impact his or her business, but without thinking through the process of divorce and how to best handle that business throughout the process, bad things can and do happen. Both spouses, not just the business owner spouse, have a vested interest in making sure the business thrives during and after a divorce.
Keeping your business healthy throughout the divorce process can be extremely difficult. Most business owners want to stay focused on running their business and going through a divorce is a huge distraction. It can be distracting for the business owner, requiring phone calls and meetings with attorneys and other professionals, reviewing letters, documents, court filings, all of which take your time and energy away from running your business. It is distracting for employees, who see and hear the business owner (their boss) spending time on other matters and frequently leads to questions about the future of the business and therefore, the future of their jobs. If both spouses can explicitly acknowledge their mutual interest in keeping the business healthy and use a divorce process that allows for orderly, planned use of time and resources, it minimizes the distraction and unnecessary diversion of energy. It also presents a solid, controlled picture to the employees so they can confidently go about doing their work without the divorce drama.
Most owners want their businesses to be well-known but want the confidential information regarding the operations of their businesses to remain confidential. The divorce process has the potential to expose all of the confidential inner workings of your business to public scrutiny. Court records, including testimony and exhibits regarding business operations, management and valuation, are public records. That means if you discuss this information in court filings or hearings, anybody can go to the courthouse (or go online in most jurisdictions) and get copies of all your business-related information.
If you own a business and you give decision-making authority to someone else (divorce master, judge), you are also giving them decision-making authority over the future of your business. If you and your spouse can’t agree on business management during the divorce process, the court could end up making those decisions or appointing a third party to make them. Being a business owner myself, that’s a scary thought. That possibility should be a powerful incentive for business owners to carefully consider the process they’ll use for their divorce before actually starting it.
So how can you make sure your business not only survives, but thrives, despite the fact that you’re getting divorced? The first step is to get educated. Meet with an attorney to discuss all of the available options for how to go through the divorce process. Include your spouse in this education process (although he or she cannot meet with you and your attorney), since you’ll both be deciding what route to take in the divorce. Then put what you’ve learned into play. Engage in the best possible process to protect and preserve your business. Keep that in your mind as a goal when you’re making decisions. And make sure your attorney understands the importance of that goal to you.