A Business Owner’s Divorce: The Impact

I am under the opinion, after practicing divorce law in Southern California for over 42 years, it is almost impossible to separate your business life from your personal life. I, too, run a multi-million dollar operation. I am responsible for meeting payroll and living up to my commitments to the judiciary, clients, vendors, and governmental authorities. A business owner’s responsibility does not stop at 5:00 pm; rather it is a 24-hour-a-day job. This article seeks to address how a divorce impacts a business owner.

You Are Served
It all starts with the business owner being served with a Petition for divorce. As we all know, this usually means a sheriff with a badge arrives at your office and possibly startles the receptionist at the front desk. It seems, within seconds, the entire business knows you have been served with divorce papers. You may feel mixed emotions: embarrassment, complete anxiety, and possibly apprehension.

Could you imagine the look on your face when making a presentation to key staff members in the board room and your receptionist interrupts to inform you there is a sheriff, with documents, requesting to meet you? This could actually take the wind out of your presentation.

After you recover from this transgression you may nervously get on the Internet or call a trusted friend. After which, you need to make the necessary preliminary arrangements on how to respond to the divorce documents served upon you.

Strategic Consultation
It is absolutely critical you meet with an experienced divorce attorney. An experienced divorce attorney can provide valuable guidance at the onset of your divorce. Calming your fears is important. Make sure you select a practice limited to family law and a divorce attorney with years of experience. This is not a moment in your life to have a generalist talk about what might happen in your divorce. Keep in mind, the divorce process of Los Angeles County in 2010 is perhaps the most challenging environment you could find yourself thursted in to.

There are thousands of cases and thousands of statutes that can be cited in your case. The California rules of Court and the Evidence Code also factor in divorce proceedings. Experts can be called upon by either side to provide credentialed and specific testimonies, verbal or written, to assert either spouse’s best interests or to discredit the other spouse’s assertions.

There are different County rules. For example, (Los Angeles County rules differ from those of Orange County). There are different local district rules. Santa Monica Court has a completely different set of rules from Downtown Court. Judicial officers can look at the same set of documents and hear the same arguments and rule differently. There are judges who are elected and there are commissioners who are appointed.

Attorneys are different as well. Single practitioners may not have the operational capacity to handle complex and sophisticated transactional or custodial divorce cases. They can be overloaded by bigger firms requesting document after document or filing hearings after hearings. Older attorneys perhaps are more experienced than younger attorneys. Real estate and business experienced divorce attorneys are different from custody attorneys. Some attorneys have abilities in both types of cases (financial vs custody).

Employees
We make our living with these great people. However, they may be affected by our personal lives. A business owner is responsible for the culture, tone, and integrity the business attempts to manifest. If an employee senses that a business owner is acting out of integrity in their divorce, they may assume they are acting in the same fashion in the working environment.

The divorce process allows either party to subpoena and request documentation from the business directly. If appropriate, even the employees may be subpoenaed for a deposition to glean valuable financial and transactional information for the benefit of the spouse activating the subpoena. The divorce process can certainly be disruptive and disruption can lead to uncertainty in a business operation.

The business owner going through a divorce decision-making process is sometimes strained and challenged. This additional stress can lead to business inertia. Inertia can affect business income which can then affect payroll. Sometimes, as a result of a business owner’s divorce, employees are laid off, salaries are cut, or 401(k) matching plans are placed on hold if not entirely terminated.

Also, at the end of the divorce process, there may be a change in ownership or in fact a sale of the business. This absolutely affects all stake holders especially employees.

The Home Front
One must be extremely careful to behave in a civil and dignified caring manner throughout divorce proceedings. This means behaving in a mature, reasonable fashion if you are still living with your spouse. Believe it or not, a lot of people that are going through a divorce continue to live together. When children are involved, even if the tone in the family residence is tarnished, you have a responsibility to act completely civil and mature, especially in front of your children. Any inappropriate behavior is not taken lightly by judicial officers. Children must not be exposed to our adult indiscretions. You should never discuss divorce proceedings with your children.

Maintaining your civility at home and during your interactions with your spouse is absolutely necessary. What you do not want to do is inflame the situation whereby you threaten or assault, by any fashion, your spouse. You do not want to have an additional domestic violence case within your divorce case.

Keep in mind temporary restraining orders are available to protect individuals. Either spouse can request this order when necessary to protect themselves or their children. There is no excuse for domestic abuse.

If you do find yourself in a domestic violence situation, act responsibly and do whatever it takes to immediately reduce the situation; walk away and de-stress. Any arguments or disagreements should be resolved through your attorneys. Being kind and considerate to your spouse is invaluable.

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