Divorce in any family can be difficult, but for farmers it can cause issues around inheritance and many people’s livelihoods can be in turmoil for generations if not handled correctly.
That was the warning from family law specialist Tamara Glanvill of Woolley & Co, who is keen to encourage farming families to follow a series of guidelines to help protect farming assets in the event of a relationship breakdown.
She urged families to plan in advance and consider the options ‘in case the worst happens further down the line’.
“Just as people make a will to protect their assets on death, given about half of marriages end in divorce, it is advisable for people to take advice on protecting their assets in the event of a marriage break-up,” Ms Glanvill said.
“Farming families have more than most to lose if they do not look at this.”
One example of where things went wrong is a case which resulted in one of the most important developments in matrimonial law in decades, regarding the financial fortunes of divorcing women.
The outcome of the White v White case means that, unless there are clear arrangements, it may be assumed by court that even a divorcing spouse who does not have their name on the deeds to the land or is not an active part of a wider family business owns a share in it.
“In that context, part of the farm may need to be sold to pay the share due in a divorce settlement,” Ms Glanvill said.
Ms Glanvill said although many other professions could settle a family break-up through a 50:50 split, for example selling part of the business to ensure one party gets their share, this was is not practical in farming situations.
She said: “Thrashing out a deal over complicated holdings and where the assets include animals and specialised, expensive machinery, would make it difficult for day-to-day life to continue as normal on-farm.
“Selling off part of the business could leave the remainder in no fit state to continue as a functioning, viable farm.”
It could also affect the next generation who expect to take over the farm, as well as other workers and contractors.
Ms Glanvill warned going to court was often a combative environment and could bring out the worst in people, with the ultimate effect of ‘crippling the farm’.
Her top tips for securing the farm against divorce include: