Divorce can have a devastating effect upon a family business but perhaps more so when that business is a farm created by generations and often held in partnership between spouses and other wider family members.
The impact of a separation can often mean farms having to be divided and sold, or heavily mortgaged to the point where the operation becomes fatally crippled.
Litigating these forms of dispute through the Court can be financially and emotionally ruinous and not just for the parties themselves. It is inevitable that wider family members will be caught in the cross-fire, particularly those who form part of the partnership or who would otherwise have inherited the farm. Relations with trusted accountants and land agents can also be irreparably damaged as they find themselves drawn into the proceedings to give evidence against a party.
The Court can also be a particularly blunt and inflexible tool for resolving these sorts of issues particularly in the farming context where snapshot valuations often fail to reflect the seasonal variations of farming or the timing of state subsidiaries. There can also be a lack of understanding by the Court of the significance of single farm payments and other allowances or how crucial subsidies can be lost if land is sold as a result of a Court order.
What is required is a far more sophisticated approach than the traditional litigation method of resolving disputes and one that is able to deal with the specific problems that beset a divorcing couple involved in farming. At hlw Keeble Hawson we are finding that many farming families are now turning to us to help with these very problems through the Collaborative Law process.
“Collaborative Law allows the farming partnership to continue to operate while creative solutions are found that will minimise the impact of separation yet meet the needs and aspirations of both” says Antony Ball, Associate in the firm’s Doncaster office.
Another feature of Collaborative Law is that the parties are able to set their own agenda and timetable and focus upon the issues that are key to them. “They are not dictated to by the Courts which in turn allows them to focus upon what they wish to achieve and to look at joint goals such as maintaining a farm business for their children – something which can often be overlooked in the heat of a court battle”
Vanessa Fox and Antony Ball are both trained Collaborative Lawyers at hlw Keeble Hawson specialising in matrimonial and family cases with particular reference to those involving farming and businesses.