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Business Assets in Divorce: Insights from a Divorce Attorney

Posted by Bruce Galloway | May 21, 2024 | 0 Comments

Divorce proceedings can be emotionally and financially taxing, especially when it comes to dividing business assets. Let's dive into the intricacies of dividing business assets in divorce, exploring the implications of co-ownership versus single ownership and providing insights into effective asset management strategies.


For couples who jointly own a business, the process can be particularly complex, but even single ownership brings its own set of considerations.


Co-Ownership of a Business: Business Assets in Divorce

When spouses co-own a business and decide to divorce, the business becomes subject to division as marital property. This means that both spouses have a legal claim to a portion of the business's value, regardless of their respective levels of involvement in its operations.


business assets in divorce

Here are some key points to consider:

  • Valuation: Determining the value of a jointly owned business is essential for equitable division. This process often involves hiring a professional appraiser to assess the business's worth based on factors such as assets, revenue, and market trends.

  •  Equitable Distribution: Marital assets, including businesses, are divided equitably but not necessarily equally. The court considers various factors, such as each spouse's contributions to the business, future earning potential, and the duration of the marriage, when determining a fair distribution.

  • Buyout Options: One common scenario involves one spouse buying out the other's share of the business. This can be accomplished through a lump-sum payment, installment payments over time, or by exchanging other marital assets of equivalent value.

  • Continuity of Operations: Divorcing couples must also address the future operation of the business. Depending on the level of animosity between the spouses, they may choose to continue co-owning the business post-divorce, implement a co-ownership agreement outlining each party's rights and responsibilities, or pursue a sale of the business and divide the proceeds. Unless the spouses agree to remain owners, the courts will likely divide ownership.


Single Ownership: How It Differs in Divorce

In cases where only one spouse owns the business, the asset is still subject to division in divorce, but the process may unfold differently compared to co-owned businesses.


Here's what you need to know:

  •  Separate Property vs. Marital Property: If the business was acquired by one spouse prior to the marriage or through inheritance or gift during the marriage and has remained separate from marital assets, it may be classified as separate property. In such cases, the non-owning spouse may have a limited claim to the business's value, if any.

  • Tracing and Commingling: However, if marital funds were used to support or expand the business during the marriage, the non-owning spouse may argue for a portion of its value based on the principle of commingling. Tracing the source of funds and demonstrating their contribution to the business can be crucial in these situations.

  • Professional Valuation: Like co-owned businesses, accurately valuing a singly owned business is crucial for equitable division. A professional valuation helps establish a fair market value, taking into account factors such as the business's assets, liabilities, income, and growth potential.

  • Buyout Considerations: If the business owner wishes to retain full ownership, they may need to negotiate a buyout agreement with the non-owning spouse. This could involve relinquishing other marital assets or agreeing to a structured payment plan over time.

  • Pre-Nuptial and Post-Nuptial agreements:  If, before marrying or during the marriage, the spouses agreed in writing to own their business(es) separately, the courts may decide against dividing ownership. 


Managing Business Assets in Divorce

Regardless of co-ownership or single ownership, managing business assets in divorce requires careful consideration and strategic planning. Here are some tips to navigate this process effectively:

divorce with business assets
  • Open Communication: Maintaining open and honest communication with your spouse throughout the divorce proceedings can help streamline negotiations and minimize conflicts.

  • Seek Professional Guidance: Enlist the help of experienced legal and financial professionals who specialize in divorce and business valuation. Their expertise can provide valuable insights and guidance tailored to your specific circumstances.

  • Consider Mediation or Collaboration: Alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation or collaborative divorce can offer a more amicable and cost-effective way to resolve asset division issues, including business ownership.

  • Focus on Long-Term Goals: Keep your long-term financial goals in mind when making decisions about the business. While emotions may run high during divorce, prioritizing financial stability and future success can lead to more favorable outcomes.

  • Update Legal Documents: After the divorce is finalized, don't forget to update legal documents such as business contracts, ownership agreements, and estate plans to reflect any changes in ownership or beneficiaries.


Dividing business assets in divorce, whether co-owned or singly owned, is a complex process that requires careful planning, negotiation, and professional legal guidance.


By understanding the implications of co-ownership versus single ownership, navigating valuation challenges, and implementing effective asset management strategies, divorcing couples can achieve equitable resolutions that lay the foundation for a secure financial future.


Remember, proactive communication, informed decision-making, and a focus on long-term goals are key to successfully managing business assets in divorce.


For personalized guidance and expert legal representation in navigating the complexities of business asset division in divorce, contact Bruce Galloway Law today. We are experienced divorce attorneys dedicated to protecting your interests and helping you achieve a favorable outcome. Schedule a consultation with us to discuss your case and take the first step toward a smoother transition.

About the Author

Bruce Galloway

Bruce Galloway is a trial and appellate attorney who practices family law and personal injury on behalf of victims of family violence, including domestic violence, sexual abuse, and child abuse and neglect. He works on other family law cases such as divorce and custody matters. His heroes are gr...


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