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Divorce Money Business

Valuing a private company or family business in a divorce settlement

8th September 2021 by Jonathan Talbot

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Running your own business can be the fulfilment of a lifelong dream, but it also brings stresses and strains which sometimes contribute to relationship breakdown. It certainly adds complexity when trying to agree a financial settlement after divorce.

‘The key challenge is to achieve a fair settlement without jeopardising the long-term financial health of the business so that the receiving party feels that they have received adequate recompense for giving up claims upon the business whilst the business is not unduly affected by incurring debt to pay to the other party,’ says Jonathan Talbot, head of the family team with Laceys Solicitors. ‘Determining a valuation for any business requires expert evidence as it is a more complex exercise than valuing other matrimonial assets such as the house or savings.’

Obtaining a business valuation

For evidence to be given in court as to the value of a business it will be necessary to obtain an expert valuation of the family business or private company.  In order to achieve a fair settlement, it will be necessary to understand what the company or business is worth and what income is generated from it. 

It is usual for a single joint expert, normally an accountant, to be appointed so that a true and fair assessment of the value of the business can be made.  They will need access to information and business accounts, and this is normally provided by way of ‘disclosure’ when information is provided from the person(s) involved in the business. 

If any gaps in this information are suspected, then the expert may request that further information is provided so that they can provide an accurate valuation. 

Reviewing a prenuptial agreement

Being aware of the risks to a family business, founders sometimes encourage or even insist that younger family members enter into a prenuptial agreement when they get married to protect established business assets.

If you have such a prenup, then the first step will be to look at this and see what was agreed.  It is not uncommon for the capital value of a spouse’s interest in the business to be protected entirely in a prenup, meaning it is ring fenced from the assets to be divided.  Sometimes the interest in the business is limited in a certain way, for example, only taking into account certain business assets or ventures. 

It is also possible for couples to have entered a postnuptial agreement after marriage, which may impact the business division in the same fashion as a prenuptial agreement can. 

Appointing a single joint expert

If you are both able to agree, you may wish to consider jointly appointing a single joint expert to value the business, as the court would usually require this to be done in any proceedings for a financial remedy order.  This means that the expert will be instructed by you and your spouse together; to be paid by you both equally and will provide a single expert opinion for you both.  This can save time and costs in arguing over valuations.  We can advise you as to the identity of suitable experts who have acted in similar situations with experience of giving valuations of businesses of a similar type to your own. 

Factors affecting the valuation

The valuation will depend on a number of factors, including the following:

  • Business structure – it is essential for the accurate valuation of the business to understand its ownership structure – whether sole trader, a partnership or LLP, a limited company with one or more shareholders.
  • Employment – if one spouse is an employee of the business, rather than an owner, then it may also be necessary to obtain employment law advice depending on the intended settlement of the business asset and whether they are likely to remain involved with the business.
  • Business assets – a business in a service industry may have few fixed assets compared to an investment business with a portfolio of bricks and mortar or a manufacturing business with plant and machinery. Invisible assets also need to be considered – such as goodwill and intellectual property (patents, trade marks, designs or copyright).
  • Trading pattern – an analysis of historic trading profits and predicted future income may be required. Subscription businesses such as software-as-a-service may benefit from a predictable income stream, while other businesses may be seasonal or subject to fashion or significant market fluctuations. The sustainable earnings of a business over a number of years may need to be determined to arrive at a proper valuation depending upon the nature of the business being examined. 

Disputing a valuation

If a business valuation is disputed when for example, the spouse not involved in the business may be skeptical of a low business valuation if the couple previously enjoyed a high standard of living and the owner may seek to downplay its value in a number of ways then these questions should be raised of the expert before further experts are involved.  If an expert is not able to answer these questions satisfactorily their report may not be capable of being relied upon in court proceedings.

An expert appointed by the court may request assistance from the court in the discharge of their reporting obligations as they will owe duties to the court to give an accurate opinion of value rather than being swayed by allegiance to either party’s position.

What happens next…

It may be that the business interest can be set off against other marital assets such as an interest in the former marital home or pension funds in order that one spouse can still continue with the business unaffected by claims upon that asset.  If that is not possible then looking at instalment payments of capital to be funded out of the business’s future anticipated profits may be an alternative solution depending upon the expert’s assessment of liquidity of the business. 

The courts may be very keen to allow a business to continue as a going concern, and this sometimes means generating creative options to enable a fair settlement to be achieved. 

How we can help

Obtaining early legal advice is important as valuation evidence may be expensive to obtain and a proportionate approach to settlement should be maintained at all times.

If you would like any further advice on this subject or other family matters please contact either our Family department on 01202 377800 or j.talbot@laceyssolicitors.co.uk or our Mediation department on 01202 377993 or g.burden@laceyssolicitors.co.uk

Jonathan Talbot

Partner — Family

Direct dial: 01202 377844

Email

Jonathan Talbot
  • “Jonathan has been amazing at helping me get a resolution with my ex-husband. He was a great listener when I was getting very upset about clauses in our old divorce agreement that were not being adhered to and reacted really quickly with a letter and support. I would not hesitate to ask Jonathan for help again but please excuse me if I hope that doesn’t happen for a while as we all know dealing with ex's is never much fun! Thank you Jonathan.”

    Sharron Davies, MBE

  • “Very happy with how you dealt with my case. Many thanks for your help and advice from Mr Talbot and his secretary.”

    Jan Saad

  • “Jonathan Talbot explained the process and how things would proceed. He was very patient allowing us time to understand and adapt to our new situation. Legal language can be quite difficult to understand and he would explain what it meant and how it would impact.”

    Rae Frederick

  • “I always use Laceys for my legal work, I feel able to talk to them and I know they listen. They have always been professional and kind.”

    Dawn Aston

  • “I’d like to extend heartfelt thanks to you and Shannon for helping me through this difficult time, I am really very appreciative to have had you on my team this year, you’ve been an enormous support. ”

    Mrs W

Jonathan heads up Laceys family department with over 30 years experience in Family Law.

He specialises in Family and Relationship Breakdowns, Financial Remedies, Collaborative Law and International Family Law.

Jonathan has a exceptional caring nature and will always strive to find solutions to family issues outside of the court if at all possible.

Outside of work Jonathan likes to keep himself busy by competing in Ironman 70.3’s when he gets the chance – which are no easy feat at having to complete a 1.2 mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and then a 13.1 mile run each race!

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