Colleen was on top of the world.
A chartered accountant, she’d always wanted her own business. So four years ago, Colleen (not her real name) and her husband incorporated an oil-and-gas company in Alberta. It made $2 million in revenue its first year. She ran the finances; he handled operations.
They had a daughter a year later. The firm grew to 13 employees. Sales were brisk. Things were going well.
Until last October, when Colleen’s husband left her—but not the company.
Now, she has the unenviable task of dividing a business she no longer wants with a man she barely speaks to.
“I’m still doing the accounting, which is awkward because I don’t want to deal with him,” she says. “Yet he’s been trying to push me out. I won’t leave because I want a handle on things.”
Colleen’s in a good position, says her advisor, Wendy Olson-Brodeur, CFP, FDS, founder of The Financial Divorce Specialist Inc. in Calgary. Colleen’s role ensures she has a thorough understanding of the business in which she’s a partner; her skills as an accountant ensure she can start a practice or find a job once the dust settles.
Owning a business in common makes divorce, never easy, even harder. Colleen wants her ex to buy her out, but he’s low-balling. She paid out-of-pocket for a third-party business valuation, because he refused to allow it as a corporate expense.
Now, Colleen wants to sell the business and split the proceeds, but her ex needs to agree. Since they never drew up a shareholder agreement, they have no documentation on which to fall back, and the process is at a standstill.
Colleen is part of a growing contingent.
In Canada, women are choosing entrepreneurship at a faster rate than men, and almost half of small businesses have at least one female owner. These women tend to be more affluent than their salaried peers, and chances are you’ll encounter them among your clientele. The fastest growing segment is women over age 55: entrepreneurship’s attractive now that their children are grown, or they’ve been downsized out of a corporate job.
So, even if they’re not currently part of your book, they likely soon will be. On the other end of the spectrum, more women are starting businesses before they marry, adds Natalie Jamison, investment advisor at RBC Dominion Securities in Oakville, Ont.
So how can you protect clients and their businesses in case of marital breakdown?
Olson-Brodeur recommends entrepreneurs plan for worst-case scenarios, especially when going into business with a spouse. “I ask, ‘Is it your passion or his? If you divorce, will you still want to be in business with each other?’”
Clients must then put those answers into a shareholder agreement with buy-sell provisions: valuation methods, when to sell, and to whom the shares can be sold (e.g. only between spouses, children or siblings; or to outside investors).