The dynamics of farming life are unique in the way they impact on the relationships within the families involved. There is a 24/7 element to it which means that the stresses and strains of combining business and family commitments can sometimes lead to the breakdown of a marriage. Therefore, the careful handling of divorce procedures involving farming families is paramount.
In ensuring that an amicable and sustainable outcome is reached, the guiding principles for any new arrangement must be to provide secure homes for the divorcing couple and their children whilst maintaining the farm as a fully functioning business entity. For this to happen, both the economic and emotional elements of the divorce should be taken into account together.
On the financial side, liquidity is often a key issue as a farm’s assets are usually held in the property rather than the profits. The situation may be further clouded by the ownership arrangement with other family members, such as parents and siblings having a stake in the farm. In turn, this can complicate any need to sell the property in order to raise capital. Assessing reasonable needs is an important part of the divorce process and farms can be treated as non-matrimonial assets which are not shared equally.
Establishing a well-drafted prenuptial agreement can help to protect farm assets in the event of a divorce and such documents, although not legally binding, can influence the decision of the courts in any subsequent proceedings.
Dispute resolution (DR), such as the collaborative law process, is always preferable to court action as a route to an agreed outcome. DR requires the parties and their respective solicitors to sign an agreement to resolve any outstanding issues through a series of meetings. This increases the likelihood of achieving an amicable resolution and permits other professionals to become involved in the process such as valuers, accountants and farming consultants. Their valuable input can help to secure a sustainable result that works for the families involved.
Whether you are a farmer or a farmer’s spouse, it is important to have specialist advice and Lyn Brisley has considerable experience of farming divorces and the complexities these can bring. She is a trained and experienced collaborative lawyer and accredited mediator.