Divorce and the farm – not just a matter for lawyers
With rural divorce on the increase, it is established that rural divorce presents a completely different set of challenges to those encountered by city and suburban spouses.
City and suburban spouses may be salaried or self-employed, owning a cash-earning business; however, conversely, owning and working a farm is considered to be a way of life, and simply selling it purely as means of a divorce settlement means more than just losing your home and your bricks and mortar.
Many farms are rich in land, buildings, machinery and stock to enable the farm to continue to work effectively, but can be fairly poor in relation to cash flow. This means that for the spouse looking to buy out the other spouse, difficulties are often encountered in trying to raise enough cash to allow the leaving spouse to accommodate herself, and often the children. To do this, land may need to be sold which will ultimately damage the income. Assuming that it is the wife who will be the leaving spouse, it has to be taken into account that the wife will have supported her husband in building up the farming business, notwithstanding time she has spent working on the farm and raising the children of the marriage. She is entitled to a fair divorce settlement to that end.
Taking all of this into account, emotional, as well as practical, issues must be considered. Often, the husband farmer will construe the breakdown of the marriage and the resulting settlement negotiations as his way of life being destroyed. The wife, on the other hand, may take the view that the husband has retained the business and is living an idyllic life in the country, while she may be “reduced” to living in a council house in the city. There is no preferred viewpoint to these two sides of the coin, as both views can create resentment.
The courts must value the farm in order to arrive at a fair settlement, looking at both sides of the argument, and ensuring that the children of the family are treated in a fair and decent manner. Emotions during this time, coupled with the complexity, may well require the involvement of not only lawyers, but independent financial advisers, life coaches and counsellors.
Carol Robinson is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors.