There’s no way you can foolproof a business, more so if it’s from a problematic relationship. You’ll just have to fix the relationship first. But no union is without its disputes and troubles, from minor squabbles to divorce-inducing battles, so it’s a tricky situation to be married and run a separate or joint business venture. Yet many couples have done it successfully, from the high profile Bill and Melinda Gates to your Mr and Mrs Neighbors who have been running a small business around the corner for many years now and have never needed a divorce lawyer.
What’s their secret? Have they found a formula for not fighting at all? Or do they just have set understandings of how to manage a thriving company and still quarrel? Here are nuggets of advice culled from psychologists, experts in family relationships and real life couples who are serial entrepreneurs and have managed small and medium business ventures with adequate, if not resounding, success.
The Separation of Business and Marriage
While the separation of business and relationships is and should never be absolute, business savvy dictates that problems in a relationship should not be carried over to the enterprise to the point that it endangers its operations and profitability. But this is better said than done, especially when it’s a joint venture and both partners report to the same office every day. It’s not easy talking to someone about work when you’ve just had a nasty spat with that someone at home. But it can be done, when you’re not fighting and can figure out how to have personal disagreements and leave it outside the company gates.
1. Have shared business goals with your spouse and agree not to let relationship difficulties hinder the attainment of these goals.
Set boundaries for behavior at home and in the office. Make it clear that no matter how angry or hurt one or both of you are, you will not intentionally do something that is destructive to the company. Your marriage may be based on love, trust and acceptance but your company’s success is based on performance, effort and accountability.
2. Know and understand the legalities and liabilities that may arise if or when you decide to part ways.
Laws differ in the US for divorce laws. California, for example, is a community property state, along with eight others. In a divorce, this means that all property and income acquired during the marriage is divided equally between the warring spouses. This will include the business, whether one spouse owned it before the marriage and it prospered and grew after the legal union. Naturally, if you owned the business before marrying, you’d want to protect it from being shared with an ex-spouse. There are ways to do this but the caveat is, these methods must be in place long before you have even thought of divorce. Although it will make you look mean and tacky, consulting a divorce lawyer even before saying your nuptial vows is actually a wise move.
3. Set a high salary for yourself.
Most business owners would rather pay themselves a below-stabdards salary so that any income from the business is reinvested into the company. In the case of a divorce however, the low salary you gave yourself becomes a disadvantage. If you give yourself a low salary, your spouse’s clever lawyer might argue that the household did not benefit from your salary and he/she is entitled to a bigger share of the business. It’s a sneaky divorce tactic you should be aware of if you and your spouse own a company.