The equestrian world is filled with couples running successful equine businesses, but what happens if the relationship breaks down and they want to get divorced?
Or perhaps you’re planning to get married and/or run a yard together, but aren’t sure how to you make sure your assets are looked after if you subsequently separate?
Former HOYS competitor Sarah Thompson (pictured right), a family lawyer and partner at Russell Jones & Walker, who is a specialist in equine-related divorces, offers her top 10 tips.
1. We’re getting divorced: how do we value our equestrian business?
Your accountant should provide the most up-to-date accounts to work from, but it’s also advisable to consult a specialist valuer. You wouldn’t ask an estate agent to value your horse anymore than you’d ask an equine valuer to tell you how much your house is worth. This is one area where it really is horses for courses.
2. How can I protect my hard-earned assets?
If you didn’t get a pre-marital agreement drawn up before your wedding and you’re still married, you could draw up a post-marital agreement. They have the same principles as a pre-marital agreement, so aren’t currently legally binding, but if entered into correctly the court will be very reluctant to overturn them.
3. We live together, but we’re not married. Am I entitled to anything?
In a word, no. Cohabitees have no rights to spousal maintenance, pensions or savings/policies that are in your partner’s sole name. The only claim they may have is in relation to real estate (i.e. your home). You can, however, get a Living Together Agreement drawn up to protect, for example, your share of a joint property.
4. We have substantial assets, but almost none are liquid. Must we sell the business?
It’s up to the judge to make the final decision, but most courts are reluctant to force the selling of any business if that’s what brings in the money. It may be that whoever wishes to buy the other party out is given a period of time to raise the necessary funds.
5. Most of our money is tied up in our yard. Do divorces cost a lot?
I always advise my clients to keep it amicable, especially if you have children — the only winners in a divorce are the lawyers and their fees increase exponentially the more you argue. That’s not to say you just give your other half everything, but being reasonable and following your lawyer’s advice will often result in a swifter, and consequently cheaper, conclusion.
6. Should I use the same solicitor we have that looks after our business?
Equine expertise doesn’t equate to family law expertise. Friends who like to hand out advice aren’t any use to you either. Get yourself an experienced family lawyer, one with equine experience if possible. It will save you time and money.
7. Once my divorce comes through, I never want to get married again. But are you better off legally when you’re married?
If you want to protect your assets from a claim in the event of you splitting up, don’t get married. Your new other half can live with you for as long you both want but if you’re not married, you’re not entitled to anything except in some very limited circumstances.
8. I want to take my new partner to next week’s point-to-point, but my divorce isn’t through yet. That doesn’t matter, does it?
Don’t flaunt a new partner and don’t cohabit until financial matters are resolved — it will invariably effect your financial settlement.
9. I’m an avid user of social networks and I’ve blocked my ex, so am I safe to say what I want?
No. Don’t go on facebook to air your grievances or fabulous new lifestyle now that you’re separated. Extracts from Facebook can be used as evidence in court. I’ve had cases where I’ve used facebook posts to show that a woman used the £9,000 she “desperately needed to live on” for a new hunter, and a man who updated his status announcing he had moved in with his new girlfriend after testifying that he was single and had absolutely no plans to cohabit.
10. I’d really like to spruce up the stable block and do a few other renovations around the yard. Is there any reason why I shouldn’t?
If you have a property with stables and/or land, it’s important to get it valued properly by a specialist in the field, jointly instructed by you and your ex. Remember, if you’re staying in the property and wanting to buy your ex out it’s in your best interests for the property to be worth as little as possible. Renovate AFTER your divorce if this is the case.
Sarah Thompson is a partner in the family department of Russell Jones & Walker Solicitors. A keen amateur equestrienne, she specialises in family disputes that have an equestrian or farming element to them. She is also a trained mediator and collaborative lawyer.