This article summarizes possible outcomes from a business divorce. There are rarely good options in a business divorce, only ways to minimize the risk and uncertainty. It is not unlikely that the partners will engage in a self-defeating street fight with only losers and no winners. There are several issues that may affect the partners’ respective negotiating positions. In terms of the company, there are a limited number of possibilities: the company will continue to exist or it will be dissolved. There are of course other variants such as the assets of the company may be purchased or the company may be merged into a different company. In terms of damages or other remedies to the aggrieved party, courts try to fashion a remedy depending on the alleged harm. Whatever the outcome in a business divorce, usually none of the parties is particularly happy. The best medicine is preventive medicine. You should go into business only with those whom you trust and those with whom you can manage a long term relationship. And before you go forward with that partner, even the most compatible partner, make sure you speak with your small business attorney to craft an agreement for what you and your partner should do when you disagree.
At one time or another there will be an end to your business. When you started your business, you should have developed an exit strategy, but sometimes things don’t go as planned. The business may end happily in a merger or acquisition and sometimes less happily by dissolution or bankruptcy. Without clear guidelines at the outside, you will find that extricating yourself from your partners may be costly. A business divorce may have similar acrimony to a family divorce. In a family divorce, there is the combustible combination of kids and money. In a business divorce, the business partners undoubtedly will also argue about money—and will contend for control over their business, which for founders, can be like an extension of their families. The disputes among partners are not easy disputes. And business divorces like their family counterparts have numerous moving parts in various areas of the law such as business organizations, contracts, unfair trade practices, employment law and trade secrets. This article summarizes some of the considerations you should keep in mind when discussing with your small business lawyer what steps you and your partners should take to minimize the risk of a messy divorce with your partners down the line.