Going through a divorce is never fun. Even if things end on decent terms, it’s still an emotional time for everyone involved. It’s new, uncertain, and can wreak havoc on a family.
Because of this, naturally, divorcing when you have a family business to think about can make everything even tenser.
A family business is another huge commitment — like a marriage. Whether you’re co-owners of a business with your spouse or you both just have to work under the same roof at a business, getting divorced can throw a wrench into everything.
Staying married isn’t necessarily any better. Most people/employees can pick up on tension in a relationship, especially if you’re dealing with other family members as co-workers. That can create a lot of anxiety in the workplace, which can lead to a decrease in productivity.
So, what can you do if you’re going through a divorce and you’re both involved in a family business?
How to Handle Divorce in a Family Business
Let’s take a look at how to navigate the situation without contention, and without sacrificing the success of your business.
Putting the Business First
The best thing you can do if you’re getting a divorce is to think about your business first. Chances are you’ve both put a lot of your heart and soul into making the business work, and it doesn’t need to fail just because your marriage didn’t work.
But, thinking about the business first and acting upon it are two different things. You’ll collectively have to decide what that looks like. The first thing to consider is whether you can continue working together, or if one (or both) of you will have to leave the business.
It’s absolutely possible to continue working together, even through conflict. If you can avoid criticizing each other, take responsibility for your actions, and not let your disagreements impact your work performance, you can still be productive in the workplace together — though a lot of it also really depends on your communication styles. For example, two aggressive people may not be able to work together (especially if they had a recent romantic falling out), but someone who is more passive might be able to work with a former spouse.
If you do decide to continue working together, it’s going to take a lot of emotional intelligence to navigate the waters. Things will undoubtedly be tense and maybe even awkward for a while. But, the best leaders are self-aware and can understand their emotions and how to deal with them, even in less-than-ideal situations.
Time to Divide
Some divorces end peacefully. Others have more contention. In these more “dramatic” cases, it may not be possible to continue working together. If you’re co-owners of a business, that might mean selling it off to someone else or calling it quits, altogether.
When that happens, you’ll have to consider how to divide your business and its assets with one another. You can choose an asset approach, an income approach, or a market approach to divide things as evenly or as fairly as possible. An attorney can help you to make the best decision and to end things as quickly and painlessly as possible.
In some cases, your former spouse may be willing to walk away from the business. But, they’ll likely need to be “bought out.” Again, this is something to discuss with your lawyer. It may cost a lot of money to do something like this, upfront, but if it means you get to keep your business, it can be worth it.
It’s Business, Not Personal
If you can have a miracle-minded divorce, where you’re both willing to let go of the contention and negative feelings you might have, your business can thrive. However, this will only happen if you can find peace with one another, and peace in your own life that will let you focus on the business side of things instead of the personal.
Keep in mind that you might need to concern yourself with other things in your business if you both choose to stay. You’ll have to be absolutely sure you can work together without the risk of harassment in the workplace, so it’s something to discuss with your former spouse beforehand.
Some of the issues you’ll have to deal with won’t even be because of you or your former spouse. Gossip happens at work — even at a family business. You’ll need to learn how to navigate that relationship gossip so you can keep working toward a successful career.
Remind yourself that it’s business, not personal. In fact, if everyone involved is able to do that, you have a much better chance of having a healthy working relationship with your former partner, as well as your current employees amidst it all. It might be a good idea to discuss the situation in a professional manner with your co-workers, other family members, etc., so everyone is on the same page. A lack of communication is often what creates problems, triggers rumors, and can lead to a feeling of unrest, instability, and anxiety in the workplace.
It is possible to have a family business during and after a divorce, but it isn’t always easy. If you’re committed to keeping your business alive, talk to your former spouse about different options, and try to collectively decide the best route for your business.