An increasing number of Americans are starting their own businesses, joining the record numbers of Americans who already own and operate businesses. That’s simply the way the American workforce is moving, and on the whole, I believe it’s a positive thing.
It does, however, have the potential to create difficulties in the business I’m in: The business of helping couples who no longer want to be together reach a divorce settlement. If you’re considering divorce and you own your own business, you should know you’re much better served by going the Collaborative divorce route or through mediation than you would be through a traditional, litigated divorce, for several reasons.
The first reason involves one of your most important assets as a business owner: Time. In a litigated divorce, preparing for court can be complicated by requests from the other party for information and depositions, and the actual time in the courtroom is scheduled according to what works best for the court, not you or your business. In Collaborative divorce or mediation, you get to schedule the time that works best for both you and your business, and the time spent on the case is geared toward arriving at a global settlement.
Keeping a divorce out of the courtroom also safeguards your privacy. By law, courtroom divorce proceedings are public record, and if your case goes to court, you’ll be doing so in front of unfamiliar people, including the judge. In Collaborative divorce or mediation, the discussions regarding the settlement stay in the meeting room, and only involve the people who you choose to have there.
Also, when you’re in a negotiation with your spouse, you can be more creative and flexible in coming up with a settlement that protects your business (and, importantly, any financial partners who might be involved along with you). In court, you and your spouse ultimately don’t have a say in who gets what. Those decisions are left up to a judge who you only know through what happens during your court proceedings. There’s a much better chance that you and your spouse, working with your lawyers, will create a settlement you’re both content with by using the Collaborative Process or mediation, as opposed to whatever a judge might choose for you.
If you own a business and you’re thinking about divorce, your first step should be to talk to a lawyer who’s experienced with alternatives to litigated divorce. He or she can review what’s needed to protect your business in a settlement, determine how involved your spouse was in the business, and help set a strategy for creating a settlement that allows you and your business to move beyond the divorce.