When marital disharmony creeps into the boardroom

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The Independent Online
AS Sir Terence Conran found to his cost, business and family can become too closely entwined. And, according to accountants Coopers & Lybrand and solicitors Collyer-Bristow, the settlement between him and his ex- wife is just the biggest of several recent high-profile cases, where "corporate wives" have successfully claimed roles in building up their husbands' careers or businesses.

Since the season of goodwill is a notorious period for matrimonial disharmony, it is timely that the two firms have collaborated on a book designed to help business owners through their own particular pitfalls at the time of divorce.

Written by Michael Drake, a divorce lawyer at Collyer-Bristow, and Tim Lawrence, of Coopers accountants, Divorce and the Family Business (Jordan Publishing, pounds 32.50) is aimed at business advisers, but the authors point out that the issues it raises are relevant to the owners, too.

Clearly, a divorce involving a business can be doubly traumatic: as well as settling domestic issues, the owner will have to have the business valued, an accountant selected and briefed, any hidden wealth disclosed, funds raised for a settlement, tax and company pension schemes sorted out, and documents discovered. "So if the marriage looks shaky, business owners need advisers who are expert in both matrimonial law and business finance," they say.

One special problem that sometimes needs to be resolved is whether a couple who are both involved in running a business can continue to run it together during or after a divorce. Unsurprisingly, Mr Drake and Mr Lawrence emphasise that it is very rare for a couple to resolve their personal problems and continue to work together effectively. Moreover, advisers need to be conscious of the emotional turmoil that results while also thinking about possibilities for continuing the business. In particular, they need to decide whether, if there is a parting of the ways, one spouse can continue to run it alone.

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