Co-owning a business when you're married has its challenges, so you can only imagine the headaches that are sure to result when spouses continue to be business partners after they divorce. There are, of course, legitimate reasons for doing so, and some exes are able to stay friendly enough to work together. It can even be argued that if exes can be civil for the sake of their children, then surely they can put aside their differences in order to run a business.
The unfortunate truth is that money tends to separate people, rather than bring them together. You're probably aware that money is the number one source of argument between married couples, so it's logical to assume that the fights will get worse when you're no longer on the same team. Furthermore, each person is now solely responsible for his or her own finances, even if they share the same income source. Hence, you're more likely to fight over any and all issues that could help or hurt the business.
At this point, you may be thinking: If things get truly unbearable, I can just get my ex to buy me out, or split the business in half, right? Well, that depends on what your former spouse wants to do, since he or she is not obligated to do anything other than what was decided in the divorce settlement. As a general rule, the New Jersey Courts will uphold the terms of a final divorce judgment unless both spouses agree to a modification. The court will not order a modification unless there are compelling circumstances, such as one spouse failing to disclose certain assets during the divorce proceedings.
You may also be able to ask for court intervention if you believe that your life is in imminent danger by continuing to work with your ex. However, this involves a lot more than just yelling and name calling, even if it happens often. On the other hand, if your former spouse is calling you at all hours of the night, leaving threatening messages, hacking into your online accounts, etc., those may be compelling enough circumstances to merit examination by the courts. Otherwise, neither the superior courts or Appellate Division will compel your spouse to buy you out or partition the business into two separate entities. In essence, getting out of a joint business venture is much easier before, rather than after the divorce.
Deciding what to do about a co-owned business after divorce requires legal advice from an experienced divorce attorney. It can be hard to let go of a business into which you're deeply invested, especially if it generates a comfortable and consistent income. However, it's important not to let emotions or fear of change steer you away from decisions that may be best for you in the long run. For objective advice about your marital property rights and legal options, please schedule a free consultation with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.
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