Working with your spouse in a business can be challenging even when you're happily married. So how do you work together after going through a divorce?
It's a well-known fact that about half of all marriages end in divorce. Whether the split is amicable or contentious, the process is painful, especially if there are children involved. When you consider that close to 4 million married couples run family businesses, another difficult challenge rears its ugly head when a divorce occurs: Can copreneur exes continue to work together?
The issues that arise when copreneurs divorce go deeper than financial concerns. In most cases, if both spouses want to maintain their roles at the family business, they must consider whether they have what it takes to move forward in a positive way, totally separating business and personal issues.
It is possible to end a marriage but retain a business relationship, but it's not easy. How often do we witness a positive, supportive co-parenting relationship between ex-spouses and express surprise? The obvious reason is that it takes tremendous maturity and a sense of purpose greater than self to work collaboratively with an ex-spouse to raise healthy children.
The same constructive attitude is necessary if former spouses want to continue to work together for the greater good of their business.
As a family business adviser, I suggest reflecting on the five things I believe are needed to have a strong marriage, relating them to the potential of continuing to be successful as divorced coprenuers.
Respect. In addition to ensuring you have self-respect, you need to ask yourself whether you still respect your partner. Depending on how things have gone with the divorce, this can be difficult at best, for even happy couples may struggle with the issue of respect.
Trust. Do you trust your partner? If your divorce was the result of a betrayal, it can be very hard to re-establish trust; if you simply grew apart, trust may still be intact. In either case, it's important to negotiate roles and responsibilities so it's crystal clear who does what, and clearly spell out how finances are disbursed in the family business.
Open communication. Are you able to communicate with your partner? You may need to find ways to communicate that are comfortable for both of you. Your family business will be at risk if you are unable to talk to each other in a civil manner.
Passion. Both exes must be passionate about the business and must commit to doing what's necessary to ensure it succeeds. It can be valuable to focus on your partner's good qualities, reminding yourself about what he/she brings to the business.
Commitment. Being committed to working together for the good of the business must be a priority. This includes being honest with one another and leaving your past personal issues out of the business.
If copreneur exes had issues with any of these things while they were married, odds are good that those deficiencies remain. It's critical to change the things that didn't work in the marriage to be able to make a family business relationship after divorce work. Every couple is different; some will be able to address post-marriage challenges by making handshake agreements, while others may need to have legal documents drawn up to provide peace of mind. A middle ground might include bringing in a family business consultant to set up structures that will allow copreneur exes to be successful.
Many divorced copreneurs may choose to enter into a trial period to determine if they're able to leave their personal lives at the door and successfully co-manage the business. At the end of that period of time, if they're unable to coexist in a healthy way, they may need to pursue a buy/sell agreement, as any other partnership would do upon dissolution.
Denise P. Federer, Ph.D. is founder and principal of Federer Performance Management Group. She has 27 years of experience working with key executives, business leaders and Fortune 500 companies as a behavioral psychologist, consultant, coach and trainer. Contact her at: [email protected]