by Amy Lawson, MBA, CDFA®
Life can be difficult, and divorce can be daunting. As roughly one-half of all marriages end in divorce, I believe it’s safe to say that divorce will add to life’s difficulties for roughly one-half of the married population at some point.
When divorce involves a business interest, divorce can be more than doubly difficult. It’s that exponential pain that resembles the exponential pain we feel when we are going through a divorce AND fear our post-divorce holidays won’t live up to a Normal Rockwell painting.
Pain of Divorce x Pain of Divorcing Your Business Partner = Pain2
If you are facing divorce, in business with your spouse, and you expected your life to resemble a Normal Rockwell painting, then that pain is cubed:
Pain of Divorce x Pain of Divorcing Your Business Partner x Norman Rockwell-esque Expectations = Pain3
How could the pain not be intensified? How could you not feel utterly overwhelmed? The divorce process is the unwinding of your past; the unwinding of a private life shared with another person. When the divorce process involves two people who not only navigated a shared private life but a shared professional life, you are unwinding a private life intertwined with a professional life, that also may involve a professional change for one or both of you.
Here’s A Visual Exercise To Help Make My Point:
Image a red ribbon that is one inch in length for each year of your life. If you are 55 years old, then your ribbon will be 55 inches long, if you are 56 years old, then your ribbon will be 56 inches long, and so on and so forth. Now, think back upon your life and tie a knot in the ribbon for every painful memory or experience you have had for as far back as you can remember.
Next, image a blue ribbon that is one inch in length for each year of your spouse’s life. If your spouse is 55 years old, then his ribbon will be 55 inches long, if he is 56 years old, then his ribbon will be 56 inches long, and so on and so forth. Because we tend to attract partners who are as emotionally wounded as we are, tie an equal number of knots in your spouse’s ribbon.
Now, in your mind’s eye, take those two knotty ribbons and tie them together at one end. Then twist those ribbons together, then knot them and twist them and knot them some more – that’s marriage.
We walk down the aisle, beautifully dressed, but tied up in our emotional knots, marrying someone who looks equally dapper yet also tied up in his own emotional knots. We may see a knot or two in ourselves and in our soon-to-be-spouse before taking that traditional stroll, but those ribbons can be so damn attractive that we are blinded to the knots, in the beginning at least.
Now, image a yellow ribbon that is one inch in length for each year of your life. Start with the same number of knots as you did with your red ribbon and then add a knot for each year of college or specialized training you have received… add a knot for any religious beliefs you have, or lack of them… add a knot for any political beliefs you have, or lack of them… add a knot for any parental or societal pressure you feel or have felt to do things in a certain way.
Next, image a green ribbon that is one inch in length for each year of your spouse’s life. Start with the same number of knots as you did in your spouse’s blue ribbon and add a knot for each year of college or specialized training your spouse has received… Because everyone was influenced by the religious beliefs with which they were reared (or lack of them if they’re atheist or agnostic), by the political climate in which they grew up, and by parental expectations and societal norms, tie an equal number of knots in your spouse’s ribbon.
Now, in your mind’s eye, take those two knotty ribbons and tie them together at one end. Then twist those ribbons together, then knot them and twist them and knot them some more – that’s your professional lives twisted into one.
Our Professional And Personal Lives
Whether we work with our spouses or not, our professional lives impact our personal lives. Someone has to take the kids to their doctor and dentist appointments – both of which are during traditional business hours… Someone has to take the kids to/from soccer practice, swim lessons, debate club… Someone has to pick up the slack when one of you has to travel for work.
Want to guess what gets twisted and knotted next? That’s right, the red and blue tangled mess gets twisted together and knotted and twisted and knotted some more with the yellow and green tangled mess – that’s your life when you and your spouse own a business together.
In a divorce situation that involves a business interest, the couple has three options:
- Maintain the status quo. The couple divorces but continues to operate the business.
- Sell the business to a third party and split any net profit.
- One of you buys out the other.
Each of these options potentially add even more twists and knots to the tangled mess. For example, would you WANT to continue to work together, to see each other +8 hours a day for five out of seven days? Could you heal and move forward with your personal life if your professional life is enmeshed with that of your soon-to-be ex (STBX)? If he pushed your buttons at home, it stands to reason he pushed your buttons at work and would continue to do so. What if you believe you can continue to work together post-divorce, take steps to do so, but later realize you can’t?
What if one or the other of you is THE TALENT and there is no market for the business? What if a market exists for the business, but with little probability of any net profit given the current health of the business or the economy?
What if you feel as though the business is your baby and you can’t bear to give it up but can’t likely run the business without the skill set your STBX brought to the table? Could you easily hire someone with those skills? Can you comfortably afford to hire someone with those skills?
What if both of you feel as though the business is your respective baby and neither can bear to give it up? What happens to the business?
While none of these WHAT IFs can be ignored, here’s the saddest WHAT IF of all: What if selling the business makes you feel as though you failed on two fronts, both the marriage and the business?
Dear friend, whatever you’re facing, you don’t have to face it alone. Don’t know where to start? Start here!
Wishing you peace & plenty of detangler!
Your gray girlfriend,