How Are Business Assets Divided In Divorce?

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    Is a business considered marital property?

    In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, business interests will generally be considered by the court as matrimonial assets, and their value will therefore need to be added to the matrimonial pot.

    This is irrespective of which spouse founded or ran the business.

    But in Scotland, business interests are only counted as matrimonial assets if they were acquired post-marriage.

    As such, if one party already had set up a successful business before getting married, they will normally keep those assets after divorce.

    However, if the value of the business increased during the marriage, this increase in value may be taken into account and added to the matrimonial pot.

    What can happen to a business in a divorce?

    If you are reading this article you may be asking ‘what happens to my business in a divorce’.

    Well, it generally depends on several factors including whether the business only belongs to one individual spouse, for example they founded and managed it alone. In which case the courts will normally try to ensure that party retains their business in full.

    Should this be the case then instead of having to share the business interests with their ex, they will have to give up alternative assets (eg their portion of the marital home) as a substitute for the value of the business assets.

    However, if there are insufficient alternative assets, it may be necessary to transfer a certain number of shares (in the case of a limited company) to the other spouse.

    It is unlikely that the court will order a business to be sold, although it does have the power to do so.

    Can my wife take half of my limited company?

    In the case of family businesses (eg where both spouses are company directors and own an equal number of shares), the situation can be more tricky.

    If the couple split up amicably, they might be able to carry on as business partners.

    Alternatively, one party could retain their shares but become a ‘sleeping director’ and allow their ex to manage the business.

    Otherwise, one spouse can sell their shares to a new director, or their ex can buy them out.

    The same principles apply to partnerships.

    If no solution can be reached, the divorcing parties will either need to sell their business or go to court and ask the judge to make a decision.

    Regardless of how you decide to divide the existing business assets, you will need the assistance of a solicitor to draw up a consent order for you.

    This legally binding order sets out to the court how you intend to divide up the business assets as part of your overall divorce settlement.

    Applying to the court to end your financial commitments will prevent both parties from making any future financial claims, even years in the future.

    For more details: Is a Limited Company Protected From Divorce?

    How is a business valued in relation to a divorce?

    It will be necessary to have a business valued before negotiating a divorce settlement.

    The outcome of the valuation will determine the figure which needs to be added to the overall matrimonial pot.

    The business owner will need to provide an estimate of the business value in Form E, backed up with company accounts and a letter from their accountant.

    The valuation should take into account a range of elements, such as:

    • Total business assets including cash reserves, property and stock
    • Annual turnover and profit for previous years
    • Expected profits based on new contracts
    • Business debts

    If the valuation estimate is not accepted by the other divorcing spouse, it may be necessary to ask an independent accountant who specialises in valuing businesses, although this can have a significant cost attached.

    Is my ex-partner entitled to my business assets?

    It is possible for an ex-spouse to make a claim on any assets of their former partner – including new business assets – even many years after getting divorced.

    In order to prevent this from happening, one must obtain a financial settlement with a legally binding financial order or clean break order. These orders essentially prevent future claims from being made on the assets of either party.

    How to protect your business assets

    It is theoretically possible to try and ‘ringfence’ the assets of a business owned before marriage, to prevent them from forming part of matrimonial assets.

    In order to do so, it would be necessary to keep any profits from the business totally separate during the marriage (eg putting them back into the business instead of using them to pay off a mortgage on the family home etc).

    However, in a long marriage, even assets that are kept entirely separate may still come to be considered as part of the matrimonial pot by the court.

    A prenuptial agreement or postnuptial agreement can go some way towards protecting business assets, but they aren’t strictly legally binding in England and Wales.

    These types of agreements are essentially contracts, entered into by a couple either before or after marriage, which set out how the assets of each party – including business interests – should be distributed in the event of divorce.

    Clean Break Consent Order Service for £399

    You don’t need to spend thousands of pounds hiring local solicitors if you have agreed to obtain a clean break order following your divorce. We provide an affordable fixed-fee service to secure your finances without breaking the bank on solicitors’ fees!

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