Divorce is a business
Divorcing couples and the closely held family business
Divorce can be painful, but if you own a closely held family business, especially in the service sector, it can destroy your business.
As a general rule, if you have a closely held family business and you are facing a divorce you can be clear of one thing, your case is going to get very ugly, very fast.
Protecting yourself and your company from all harm while ending your marriage may not be possible. The divorce could very well ruin your livelihood. To reduce the risk of damage to your share of the family business you will need an effective well-reasoned plan.
Fundamentally, determining what to do will require knowing who you are? You will need to understand what has made you and your business successful. You will need to know where you stand in the day to day operation of the business once the break from your spouse is certain.
What if you have the weaker hand? Maybe your wife or her family started the business. Prior to consulting an attorney, experienced in these matters, unrepresented individuals who have the weaker hand in the family business generally opt from a select menu of strategies. Most spouses proceed in sequential fashion down this list, but the motivated family business stake holder is not afraid of going back to the top of the list and redoubling his efforts if the next step down the list has not worked out.
Stage one. Use the capital that your spouse has given you to manipulate her emotions. Look, your marriage sucks but her desire to end it is usually not very strong. Most people have built up an idea in their head that their marriage is okay. You know what you can get away with, play your cards right, don t push her over the edge and you won t need to get a divorce. While you are married you ve got money, you have freedom and you have become quite accomplished at knowing how not to cross the line of no return. Frankly, if this is you; keep it up. At some point nausea has just got to prevail and the salad days, not worrying if the gravy trail will ever end, will be over. Hold out as long as you can.
Okay, so yours spouse has moved on. You could only push so much. It was bound to happen. Many spouses don t skip a beat and quickly move to stage two.
The spouse who feels like the outsider will often decide to institute a policy of slash and burn. The idea is that if you can destroy the confidence of others in your spouse s business, sully her reputation, plant seeds of doubt in her clients, poison customer relations, and alarm suppliers into thinking that they won t be paid by your spouse, it will be quite easy to go in and pick up the pieces.
This plan is particularly popular with some, for several reasons; first if this plan has crossed your mind then it completely suits your personality. Anybody who thinks that they can achieve success by trashing the business that feeds their children will work extra hard to implement this strategy.
The main drawback with this strategy is that it rarely works. You need to understand the seeds of your success. Why is it that your customers call you? Do you really think you are the best pool installer in America? Do you think anybody cares if you really are, really? No, they call you because they have your telephone number, you showed up on time the last time you were asked to do the job, your competitors are in disarray probably going through a bitter divorce and actively trying to destroy the only thing that keeps their children from begging in the streets, their own business. You get the calls because you are the path of least resistance; mess with that and the phone rings for the next guy on the list.
The second reason this primitive plan fails is for the same reason you decided to implement it in the first place; you are on the outside. Getting a court order, that you are sure to violate, to stop this type of behavior is fairly easy and once you have violated the court s order it is going to be an uphill battle to destroy the family business from the inside of a jail cell, much less be there to scoop up the pieces once the business crumbles.
You need a better plan. If stage two does not work, try a move back to stage one.
Okay, so you achieved limited results with stage one? Have you considered being the overly helpful ex ? Of course you have. That is because it s found in the self-help arsenal of most feuding family business stake holder s tricks to improve their chances of financial stability following a divorce. Prove yourself invaluable, drum up business for the company. Provide new avenues, new markets, and new areas for success. Maybe you can t live together, but the thinking goes, you are too invaluable to ignore. Oh yeah, and then once you have found an entrée in the business operations you can steal it.
Why does this one fail? Maybe for the same reason your marriage failed. You are a jerk, you slept with the help, dude, basically she is over you. The real question is what made you think this one was ever going to work?
I suggest and most successful minority business stake holders would agree, move back to stage one. If you have gone this far without getting divorced chances are it will work again.
Okay, act one, Stage one, take fifteen has finally played itself out. What do you do, now? Going down your list won t be very helpful because by now your spouse has wiped the scales from her eyes and she is ready for your lame tricks. She is hired a decent attorney who knows what the business is worth, this is going to be a long ride. May I suggest you try state one, one last time. Okay, I thought so, it worked again. What a sucker.
For some unlucky minority stake holders the repetitive cycle will come to an end. What is a stake holder to do? The law is a lot like chess; you cannot possible anticipate every future move but the apt student knows what has worked in the past.
Law Office of Martin M. del Mazo
Atlanta Divorce Attorney
750 Hammond Drive
Building 12, Ste. 200
Atlanta, Georgia 30328