Keeping things amicable with your ex – is it really possible to remain friends or continue a business together?

When it comes to breaking up, it doesn't necessarily spell the end for your working relationship or friendship.
Wed 16th Aug 2017

Whether you are "consciously uncoupling" or just plain old splitting up, remaining amicable with your ex after divorce is a trend that certainly seems to be on the rise. 

Founder and owner of Amazon Jeff Bezos and his wife of 25 years, MacKenzie, have decided to divorce and "continue their lives as friends."
When owner of Chelsea Football Club, Roman Abramovich and his wife announced that they were separating, rather than air their dirty laundry in public, the couple confirmed their commitment to “jointly raising [their] two children” and stated an intention to “remain close friends, parents, and partners in the projects [they] developed together…” 

But what are the key considerations for couples who plan to remain friends after they divorce, have business interests together, or are thinking of setting up a family business?

Can you remain friends with your ex?

In any family breakdown involving children, whilst the parents may no longer see eye-to-eye, there is an enduring parenting relationship and it is important for families to work together to establish arrangements that are in the best interests of the children. The Family Court adopt a ‘No Order’ principle when it comes to the law relating to Children. It is considered that generally it is not in a child’s best interests to have an order relating to their care, unless it is necessary. Therefore parents are encouraged to work together to agree arrangements that best meet the needs of their children and that are going to work in practice for their family. At SA Law, all our family solicitors are members of Resolution, an organisation of family lawyers who sign up to a code of practice recognising a commitment to dealing with divorce and family breakdown in a constructive and non-confrontational manner.

What happens in divorces where there is a business interest or a joint business venture?

When they announced their divorce, the statement from Mr Abramovich and his Wife also said that the couple intend to "continue to work together as co-founders of the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow and the New Holland Island cultural centre in Saint Petersburg". The couple appear to recognise the negative impact that an acrimonious separation could have, not only on their children but on their joint business ventures.

The Bezos statement had a similar sentiment about committing to continuing their work together; "...We also see wonderful futures ahead, as parents, friends, partners in ventures and projects, and as individuals pursuing ventures and adventures."

In cases where there is a joint business venture, it is quite possible to continue working together so long as you have a clear understanding of your respective roles within the business. As such, it is sensible to ensure that any shareholder or partnership agreements set this out clearly and to consider mechanisms for dealing with any future disputes that may arise in relation to the business. In circumstances where you no longer feel able to continue working together, then it is likely that a business valuation may be required so that consideration can be given as to how best to deal with the business as an asset within the context of resolving the matrimonial finances and reaching a settlement. In circumstances such as this, it may be appropriate to seek corporate or employment law advice, in addition to a specialist family lawyer. As a full-service law firm at SA Law, we value cross-departmental working and regularly utilise the experience and specialist advice available from our colleagues in other departments to assist in family matters.