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Can a family business survive the end of a marriage?

When it comes to deciding to end a marriage, people have to think about asset and property division -- and how to share the things that cannot be divided, such as children or pets. Sometimes, however, couples elect to keep some assets and share them, often for practical rather than sentimental reasons.

One particularly thorny area is when a couple is in business together. Dissolving the business and splitting the proceeds is one option. However, many couples have spent years building their business, and if it were to end as a result of a divorce, that could make things emotionally more difficult -- and perhaps financially, if the business was a successful one.

According to estimates from the Census Bureau, nearly 4 million businesses in the country are owned by a husband and wife. Given the high rate of divorce in the U.S., it can be assumed that many couples have had to make decisions on the fate of their business when their marriage was coming to an end.

People in this situation need to be sure it's going to work if they decide to keep the business. What are some of the key factors they will need to consider?

• The employees. People working for such a company will likely be uneasy, at least at first, about the possibility of working for ex-spouses. They need to be assured that possible personal animosity won't affect the business.

• Get it in writing. Like a divorce settlement, an agreement can be concocted that spells out all the details and offers certain guarantees to each of the parties.

• Get help. Counseling to help the marriage work might have failed, but therapy to help two business associates communicate can still be helpful.

• Respect each other. People can run a business even if they don't like each other, but if they don't respect each other, it can really get in the way of success. If festering wounds are going to carry over from a couple's personal life to their business life, it may not be worth it.

Source: The New York Times, "When Couples Divorce but Still Run a Business Together," Bryan Borzykowski, Dec. 5, 2012

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