How does Michigan law handle the division of a family business in a divorce?

Introduction to Family Business Division in Michigan Divorces

Divorces are complex, especially when they involve the division of a family business. In Michigan, the process is governed by specific laws and principles designed to ensure equitable distribution. Understanding how these laws apply can be critical for anyone going through a divorce with shared business interests.

Equitable Distribution in Michigan

Michigan follows the principle of equitable distribution, which means that marital property is divided in a way that is fair, but not necessarily equal. When it comes to a family business, this can become particularly challenging. The court will consider various factors to determine what is equitable, including the length of the marriage, contributions of each spouse to the business, and each party's economic circumstances.

Valuation of the Business

An essential step in dividing a family business during a divorce is accurately valuing the business. Michigan courts typically require a professional business valuation to assess the fair market value. This process may involve reviewing financial statements, tax returns, and other relevant documents. It's important for both parties to agree on a neutral third-party evaluator to avoid conflicts of interest.

Division Options

Once the business's value has been established, there are several ways that Michigan courts may handle its division:

Consideration of Non-Marital Contributions

Matters can become complicated when one spouse has contributed non-marital assets or inheritance towards the growth of the business. Michigan law acknowledges these contributions and aims to compensate the contributing spouse fairly during property division.

Historical Reference: Stokes v Stokes

In the landmark case Stokes v Stokes, the Michigan Court of Appeals addressed issues related to non-marital contributions in a divorce involving a family business. The court's decision underscored the importance of tracing non-marital assets and ensuring they are duly considered in the division process.

The Role of Prenuptial Agreements

Prenuptial agreements can play a pivotal role in simplifying the division of a family business during divorce proceedings. If such an agreement exists and outlines provisions for handling business assets, Michigan courts will generally adhere to its terms unless deemed unfair or unconscionable at the time of divorce.


Navigating through a divorce involving a family business requires careful consideration of Michigan law and often necessitates expert legal guidance. Understanding how equitable distribution works and preparing for valuation and division strategies can help mitigate stress and lead to more favorable outcomes.