Saving the Golden Goose: Part II – Including Specialized Professions as An Alternative Option to the Traditional Court System
As mentioned in our previous blog Saving the Golden Goose: Part I, a court process allows for only a rights based determination of the issues at hand. However, there are many intricacies involved in the enmeshment of family business and the process of separation and divorce. As an alternative to a purely rights based approach, other options can be considered in the collaborative approach, including:
- Family trusts or holding companies as a method of sharing income from the family business
- Tax planning, avoiding the possibility of triggering a Canada Revenue Agency audit
- Considering the formation of a new family trust
- Employment of children in the family business
- Estate, succession, and capacity planning
- Ensuring insurance is in place to cushion the effects of any risks
- Gifting shares or portions of the family business to children or other family members
- Maintaining the privacy of the family business
- Managing the continuation of income streams
- Splitting income amongst family members
- Delaying equalization or sharing business payments (Ie: if and when the family business sells)
- Preserving the family legacy for generations
- Recognizing and predicting the ebb and flow of the market and business patterns
Unlike the court system, the collaborative process is unique in that it offers the additional benefit of involving neutral professionals who specialize in associated areas, listed above. These neutrals are able to address relevant areas of the family law matter, often with more experience in their particular field than lawyers. Neutrals are also able to complete work at their hourly rate, rather than at the lawyer’s fee. They are also able to take on some of the information gathering that would alternatively be completed by the spouses, which can be stressful. This makes including neutrals an efficient way to deal with issues in a cost effective manner.
Collaborative Financial Specialists may be accountants, financial planners, and business valuators who have expertise in helping separating families address issues relating to the family business. They play a vital role in the collaborative process by ensuring that clients provide full and frank financial disclosure. Financial disclosure includes aspects such as income, liabilities, and assets of both the spouses and the business. A business valuator may value the business and, as in the case of many self employed individuals, complete an income analysis to determine yearly income for support purposes. In the collaborative process, family business owners can work alongside the financial professional and/or business valuator to assist them in understanding the intricacies of the business based on its unique field.
Financial Specialists thoroughly vet the documents and prepare detailed reports which help to streamline settlement discussions. Financial Specialists further add value to the collaborative process by educating clients about their finances and helping to manage their expectations from a neutral perspective. This impartial stance helps to keep client expectations realistic, making negotiated settlement more likely.
Another key benefit of financial professionals is their ability to “even the playing field”. In some family matters, one spouse may have been much more involved in the finances of the family business. The other spouse may feel they are ill equipped to negotiate the finances associated with the business, and may worry about being taken advantage of by their spouse. A financial neutral can spend time separately with both parties to ensure that all the cards are on the table, and that each spouse understands the basis upon which they are negotiating.
While it may not immediately seem to be a common sense approach to include a family professional within the context of a family business matter, family professionals can often deal with may of the underlying issues associated with restructuring a family and a family business. Emotions can run additionally high when dealing with the very real and salient issues associated with the individuals which make up a family business team.
Much of the concept of “Interest Based Negotiation” centers on interests that are not purely financial. A family professional can assist in identifying and bringing these interests to the table. Anger, loss and grief are a natural part of divorce or separation, especially when a family’s livelihood is on the line. A family neutral gives families access to support and guidance for managing these emotions which can intensify the conflict and derail settlement attempts in traditional divorce.
Collaborative Family Professionals are counselors, social workers, psychologists or mediators who have specialized skills in handling the emotional aspects of the issues pertaining to separation and divorce. They further discuss parenting, and help ensure that feelings, needs, and concerns are understood and respected where children concerned. This is especially pertinent when there are children working within a family business, who have their own independent concerns about how the divorce will affect their future within the business context.