A bad marriage isn’t the only thing that ends with a divorce. Sometimes, a good business can go bust, too. While 580,000 new firms opened in 2004, about 10% of existing firms closed. And with the national divorce rate at about 3.5 for every 1,000 people, how many of those closures resulted from divorce? How many of the new firms are at risk? Despite that risk, most business owners – 60% -- have no plan in place to “divorce-proof” their companies, according to Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company’s (MassMutual) research study, FamilyPreneurship: What Every Entrepreneur Should Know before Starting a Business with a Family Member, a two-part study conducted by Harris Interactive in 2009 among six focus groups of small business partners and online among 518 business owners.
“Everybody likes to think that marriage is forever, but unfortunately it often isn’t. Even if they think divorce will never happen to them, business owners owe it to themselves, their families and their employees to put a plan in place, because all of them are depending on the business for their livelihoods,” said Beth Wood, an assistant vice president of the Life Company Marketing division of MassMutual, and a former family business owner herself.
The survey shows that of those respondents who experienced a divorce, nearly half said the break-up had a negative impact on their businesses. Larger companies were more likely than smaller ones to have “divorce-proofing” plans either already in place or in the works. There are a number of potential strategies that owners can use to reduce the likelihood that a divorce could hurt their businesses. A few of these include:
Buy-sell agreements that can be triggered by certain events, such as a divorce
To put an effective plan in place, it’s important to work with a financial professional, such as a Certified Family Business Specialist, who knows how family dynamics affect businesses and is familiar with risk-management and wealth-preservation strategies.