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Farming and Relationship Breakdown

23rd August, 2016

As the long days harvesting lead seamlessly into the next crop season, the potential for strains within a farming relationship are unrelenting.  Whilst some of us might consider the farming life to be idyllic the reality is often very different with long hours and limited monetary reward.

In addition to the emotional stress that accompanies most relationship breakdowns the breakdown of a farming relationship can bring with it added complexities in relation, in particular, to the resolution of the financial aspects of a divorce or separation.

The farmhouse, other property or land may belong to someone other than the parties.  They may be owned by a partnership, company, trust or a landlord in the case of a multigenerational tenancy.  It may be that other parties need to be joined in the matrimonial proceedings as a result.
The assets of the marriage may include animals (livestock) and machinery (deadstock) without which the farming business may not be viable.  These assets may also be owned by a farming partnership or company in which a number of people may have an interest, very often family members.
There may be a question as to whether the farming spouse/partner is a partner in the farming partnership or simply an employee?  This can be unclear and may involve looking at previous partnership agreements and historical profit shares to ascertain the true position.
Where farms have diversified, there may be agreements which limit the opportunity for land to be sold to enable one party to buy out the other.
Farming payments may also have to be considered as they have a value albeit often without them smaller farms are just not viable.
The biggest issue with farming cases is that often the parties are property rich but income poor with the property/land being required to make the farming business viable.
In light of the above, it is notoriously difficult for the parties or ultimately a Judge to resolve farming cases in a way that, ideally, enables the farming business to continue, perhaps for generations to come, but at the same time, provides a fair settlement for both parties.

Whilst case law has seen the Courts vary trusts to make provision for a departing spouse and indeed in the landmark case of White –v- White, itself a farming case, the Court spoke of the “Yardstick of Equality”, the reality is that a Court is unlikely to order the sale of livestock, land and machinery to achieve that equality.  In the case of White itself, the wife walked away with substantially less than 50% despite her wish to also continuing farming.

Farming cases require a carefully considered approach from a family law expert who can draw on the resources of colleagues within their own legal practice and also those of other professionals to achieve an outcome that meets the parties’ needs and, in so far as is possible, achieves a fair and reasonable outcome.

Sandy Edwards, who is based at the Shrewsbury offices of Aaron & Partners LLP Solicitors has 16 years post qualification experience, is a member of the Law Society’s Advanced Family Law Panel and is collaboratively trained.  Sandy says:

“Having worked in Shropshire for many years I have dealt with a number of farming divorce cases.  They can be very difficult to resolve and often require an innovative approach so as to satisfy both parties’ needs.  There is often a hope that a son or daughter will take over the business in the future but this must be considered alongside of the immediate needs of the parties and the children for somewhere to live and sufficient by way of an income to live off”.

Whether matters are contested and you need assistance with the Court process or you are in the early stages of a relationship breakdown and need some initial advice Sandy can offer expert advice and assistance.  Sandy offers a free initial 30 minute consultation and can be contacted on 01743 453 689 or [email protected]

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