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Navigating Divorce for Business Owners in Florida

Posted by LEISA WINTZ | May 16, 2024 | 0 Comments

Practical Insights and Legal Considerations for Protecting Your Business During Divorce

Marriage and business ownership can be a delicate balance, but what happens when that balance is disrupted by divorce? In this episode of the FMLG Podcast, hosts Nazarena and Leisa delve into the complexities surrounding business ownership and divorce in Florida. Drawing from real-life scenarios and legal expertise, this episode offers crucial insights for business owners facing the possibility of divorce.

Understanding the Basics: How Divorce Affects Business Ownership

When a married couple decides to divorce, one of the first concerns is often the impact on any jointly owned businesses. The situation becomes more complicated when the business serves as the primary source of income for both parties. According to Leisa, the key documents to assess in such cases are the articles of incorporation, tax returns, and profit and loss statements for at least the past three years. These documents can provide a clear picture of the business's financial health and help both parties understand what they are entitled to.

Essential Documents for Business Valuation
1. **Articles of Incorporation**: These documents indicate the business's structure and ownership details, such as whether it is an S corporation or another type of entity.
2. **Tax Returns**: Reviewing at least three years' worth of tax returns helps gauge the business's profitability and understand its financial trajectory.
3. **Profit and Loss Statements**: These statements offer a detailed breakdown of income and expenditures, crucial for a comprehensive valuation.
4. **Contracts and Future Income**: Any existing contracts or expected future income must be considered, as these can significantly impact the business's valuation during divorce proceedings.

Continuing to Work Together: A Risky Proposition
While the idea of both spouses continuing to work in the same business post-divorce might seem feasible, Leisa strongly advises against it. She recounts a scenario where a nurse practitioner managed her cardiologist husband's practice, only for their divorce to pose significant complications. Though they initially considered working together during the transition, it quickly became evident that a structured separation of duties and eventual departure was necessary to protect their income and assets.

Valuation Differences: Tangible vs. Intangible Assets
When it comes to business valuation, not all businesses are created equal. Nazarena highlights the various types of businesses, from those with tangible assets, like a construction company with millions in equipment, to service-based businesses primarily driven by the owner's reputation and goodwill. Leisa elaborates that the latter often have little tangible value apart from computers, phones, and other basic equipment. In such cases, the business's worth lies mainly in the owner's professional reputation and client relationships.

Equitable Distribution and Buyouts

Florida follows the principle of equitable distribution, meaning that in the absence of a prenuptial agreement, businesses formed during the marriage are considered marital assets. Typically, the spouse more involved in running the business will retain ownership while buying out the other spouse's share. For example, a construction business with substantial tangible assets would require a detailed assessment to determine a fair buyout price for the non-operating spouse.

Profit and Loss: Not Just for Taxes
One of the most enlightening points Leisa makes is about understanding Profit and Loss (P&L) beyond the scope of tax preparations. While tax returns provide a general overview, P&L statements dive into the specifics, revealing expenditures that can indirectly affect alimony and child support calculations. For instance, if a business covers personal expenses like car payments or meals, these could be deemed income when calculating support obligations.

Key Takeaways: Legal Preparation and Practical Steps
1. **Legal Consultation**: Consult a family law attorney experienced in handling divorces involving business ownership.
2. **Documentation**: Gather all necessary documents well in advance to ensure an accurate business valuation.
3. **Financial Planning**: Consider hiring a forensic accountant if the business has substantial assets or complex financials.
4. **Transition Planning**: Create a clear plan for transitioning roles and responsibilities within the business to minimize disruption.

Divorce is never easy, especially when a business is involved. Understanding the legal and practical considerations can help business owners navigate this challenging time more effectively. The insights shared by Nazarena and Leisa highlight the importance of thorough preparation and informed decision-making to protect both personal and business interests during a divorce. Tune in to the FMLG Podcast for more episodes that demystify family law and offer practical legal advice.

About the Author


Leisa Wintz originally began her career as a marriage and family therapist. Ms. Wintz went on to attend law school and started practicing family law in 2009. However, she quickly realized that many family law practices lacked the empathy and compassion she believed were necessary in order to achi...


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