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When divorce means sharing business assets

Married couples in Missouri who are both life partners and business partners may wonder whether it is possible for a couple to start and run a business together before and after a divorce. One couple is saying, "Yes, it is." And recent census data suggest that they may not be alone.

After meeting in law school in the late 1980s and marrying in 1998, the couple ran a law firm together, the husband acting as CEO and the wife helping to build the business into a 50-person civil litigation firm. During their 2006 divorce, they decided they would not allow property division and other elements of their separation end their business arrangement. Their approach? Make the most out of a difficult situation and share business assets.

In 2007, the Census Bureau estimated that approximately 3.7 million businesses are operated and owned by husbands and wives. And more than a few of them are run by divorced couples who are willing to continue their professional relationships even as the nature of their personal relationships is changing.

So what are some of the tips for couples who are business partners but are undergoing divorce settlements? One is respect. Another is informing employees about the changes in the couple's marital status. This not only keeps employees from taking sides but also builds stronger trust in the workforce and eliminates confusion about what is happening. Finally, the partners can agree on what happens to the business if one party decides to sell the property or remarry.

Despite these surprising and encouraging cases of couples cooperating after divorce, if a couple doesn't want to run a business together, they may be each be entitled to a fair share of the business's value. Pensions, debts and retirement accounts could also be included in the division of assets during a divorce. However, placing a value on a business can be a very involved process that is difficult to do without assistance.

Source: El Pason Inc, "When biz owners divorce," Bryan Borzykowski, Dec. 23, 2012

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