There are many questions that one should ask a divorce lawyer, but a business owner (or his or her spouse) has an issue that is not present in every divorce: the business itself. While both spouses have a financial interest in the business, it is not uncommon for one spouse to operate the business. It is the operating spouse who is earning his or her living from the business; who has invested his or her heart and soul into the business; and worries (likely on a daily basis) about the success or failure of the business – the feeling that it is all on his or her shoulders.
So, when a divorce happens, the operating spouse often not only fears about the future success of the business but also about financial issues related to the business as part of the marital estate that has to be divided. These issues can include questions such as, “What is the business worth?” and “How can I buy out my spouse’s interest in the business?” Having a divorce lawyer who knows how to answer these questions is crucial.
Therefore, here are three very important questions for business owners to ask before hiring a divorce lawyer:
- “What is your background?” In most traditional law schools, lawyers are not trained or educated in business or financial issues. However, many lawyers have undergraduate or graduate degrees in business, finance or math; and many even worked in financial fields before they entered law school. In my own practice, I have an undergraduate degree in finance and worked as a financial analyst for a couple of years before I went to law school. There is only way to know if your lawyer has similar business insight to properly handle your divorce – Ask!
- “What legal training have you had with regard to business issues?” Although traditional law schools do not train their students on business issues, many lawyers seek education and training on business and financial matters related to their area of law. Again, ask! Citing my own background once more, I have taken advanced trial training on the issue of business valuations as applicable in divorce.
- “Can you assist in developing a business plan for my divorce?” As a business owner, you want your divorce to have a business plan: a strategic roadmap on how to achieve your goals. If your divorce lawyer cannot or will not work with you to develop a business plan for your divorce, it should raise serious questions about whether your business interests will be properly protected.
Yes, a divorce is an emotional life changing event. However, if it is treated like a business challenge, future success is much more likely and the process of the divorce will move forward with a plan of action which meets your needs. Hire a lawyer who thinks like you – like a business owner.