In general, family courts disfavor “bad actors” or spouses who take deliberate steps to disadvantage the other party in anticipation of or during a divorce proceeding. Spouses owe each other the highest duties of good faith and fair dealing – even throughout the divorce process. Specific family law codes were enacted to require spouses to be completely transparent with each other regarding their income, expenses, assets, and debts. This same spirit applies to cases involving disputes over the date of business valuation.
It is not uncommon for the divorce process to drag out for months or even years. The length of the process is dependent on many factors including the complexity of the parties’ estate. When one or both parties own a business that business will likely need to be valued prior to the conclusion of the case. As a default rule, assets (including businesses) are valued as close as possible to the time of trial. In a particularly long divorce case, the business may have a substantially different value at the parties’ date of separation as opposed to the date of trial. One way for a spouse to overcome the general presumption that a business should be valued close to the date of trial is a showing of “bad behavior” by the other spouse.
Failure to Cooperate in Discovery: In divorce cases, family court encourage open discovery of information and documents regarding all assets, including businesses. If the spouse managing the business fails to cooperate in producing pertinent business records the court may decide to value the business at the time proposed by the other spouse. Spouses are not permitted to benefit from confusion intentionally caused regarding the facts of the case.
Commingling Business Operations and Poor Record Keeping: California family courts have also selected an alternative date of valuation in cases where the spouse managing a business so intertwined pre and post-separation operations in poor record keeping that it was impossible to determine the date of separation value even though the court otherwise would have done so.
Breach of Fiduciary Duty: As stated above, spouses owe each other the highest duty of good faith and fair dealing. A violation of that duty can result in a date of valuation aimed to punish the offending spouse. For instance, if a spouse mismanages a business he or she may have to brunt the consequences of the mismanagement entirely as a result of the date of business valuation chosen by the court. California courts have also held that neglecting fiduciary duties could be grounds for an alternative date of valuation.
Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.