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Act early to protect family farm from divorce trauma
30 Nov 2023

Farming families often want and expect to be able to pass their farms down to their children and grandchildren – but what happens when a divorce threatens to break up the family’s biggest asset?

When a couple gets divorced, all their assets are included when decisions are made about who gets what. Understandably, that can cause concern that a farm might have to be sold to cover any settlement – but there are steps you can take to protect yourselves and your family.

Sarah Millington, a partner in the Family Law, Divorce and Children team at FBC Manby Bowdler’s Shrewsbury office, said pre-nuptial agreements were vital to taking some of the stress out of divorce.

She said: “No-one wants to think about divorce when they’re right at the start of a relationship, but when a person’s assets include a share in the family farm, getting a pre-nup makes more than good sense.

“When courts are deciding divorce settlements, they look at the overall assets each person has. While most farmers are often cash poor, the paper value of a farm can run into millions.

“Courts are concerned that settlements should meet the needs of each party – but they are not limited to that. If one partner is seen to have significantly more than the other, the court can order a much bigger settlement that goes beyond basic need, although they will generally try to avoid the forced sale of a profitable farm or business.

“Whilst pre-nuptial agreements are not legally binding in England and Wales, if it’s been drawn up properly, entered into voluntarily and produce a fair outcome, the courts will usually honour it. By ensuring that you are properly advised at the outset, it is possible to protect the future of your farm and your successors. Couples who are thinking about separation and divorce should also consider family mediation – talking things over with a good, qualified third party can take the heat out of the situation and help you to reach an amicable agreement that suits everyone.

“This is particularly helpful where children are involved, as mediation can help maintain family relationships and minimise animosity.

“It’s usually older generations who worry their children’s divorce might risk the farm they have worked years to build, or possibly inherited themselves. Don’t put these conversations off – speak to your children - before the wedding – to make sure everyone is agreed about what will happen if the marriage fails.

“Whether for a pre-nup before the marriage or mediation when it hits the rocks, good legal advice can save you money, stress and potentially your family cohesion.”

For more information and advice about divorce in farming families, contact Sarah Millington via email on sarah.millington@fbcmb.co.uk or call 01743 284156.

Meet Sarah Millington