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Illinois Divorce and Business Ownership: How is a business divided in a divorce?

Navigating the Complexities of Divorce and Business Ownership in Illinois

Divorce can be a complex and emotionally taxing process, particularly when the division of assets comes into play. For spouses who own a business together or where one spouse has a business, the division of this valuable asset can be one of the most challenging aspects of a divorce settlement. In Illinois, as in many states, the division of property, including businesses, is governed by specific laws that aim to ensure a fair distribution.

Understanding Marital vs. Non-Marital Property

In Illinois, there is a clear distinction between marital and non-marital property. Marital property includes most assets acquired by either spouse during the marriage, with some exceptions such as inheritance or gifts received individually. Businesses started or acquired during the marriage are typically considered marital property and thus subject to division upon divorce.

Equitable Distribution in Illinois

The state of Illinois follows the principle of 'equitable distribution' when dividing assets in a divorce. This does not necessarily mean an equal split but rather what is deemed fair based on several factors. These factors can include the contribution of each spouse to the acquisition or enhancement of the business, the duration of the marriage, and each spouse's economic circumstances.

Valuing the Business

Valuing a business is one of the first steps in determining how it will be divided. Professional business appraisers may be hired to assess the value of the company accurately. The valuation methods could include analyzing market conditions, revenue, profits, and potential growth.

Division Approaches

Once valued, there are several ways a business can be divided:

The choice often depends on the individual circumstances of each spouse and their ability or desire to run the business independently.

Case Example: In re Marriage of Smith

A landmark case in Illinois regarding business division is In re Marriage of Smith, where it was determined that professional goodwill (the value attached to a professional practice due to reputation) could not be treated as marital property subject to division upon divorce. This case highlighted that not all aspects of a business's value would necessarily be up for division.

The Role of Prenuptial Agreements

Prenuptial agreements can play a significant role in how businesses are treated in a divorce. If there was a prenup specifying that a business would remain separate property, this could override the default marital property rules.

Navigating Complexities with Legal Assistance

Given these complexities, it is crucial for divorcing spouses with shared business interests to seek experienced legal counsel. An attorney skilled in both family law and business matters can provide invaluable guidance through this intricate process.