Here's the question put to American Agriculturist's Profit Planner panel: My parents and I own a dairy farm that also has a contract poultry enterprise. My son and daughter both want to join the business. But how do we minimize risks if one or both were to get divorced?
And here's the boiled-down response from the four panelists:
Mike Evanish (consultant and business services manager of Pennsylvania Farm Bureau's Members' Service Corp.): "Risk of losing 25% of the farm is far greater today. No parent wants to give the fruits of a lifetime of work to their child's ex-spouse.
This is where an experienced farm business management consultant can be invaluable. Before considering any business relationship, you must evaluate everyone's spending and leisure desires. From my experience, the younger generation, in many cases, is less likely to be willing to sacrifice today for the benefit of tomorrow, and needs to be considered.
Goals matter. At one of the meetings, everyone must have the opportunity to state their future goals.
With that information in hand about the spouses, it's time to determine what will be in the business. Who will be in the business? How will control (management) work?
Draft appropriate documents. At this point, I like to meet separately with each couple. I've even met with spouses separately. It's interesting how much the conversations change when Mom and Dad or the other spouse aren't around. In one meeting, a bad attitude can be hidden. Chances are lessened with multiple meetings.
It's easy to say "My spouse doesn't care about the business or my working 15 hours a day." It's quite another for it to be true.
Dale Johnson (University of Maryland Extension farm management specialist): First, minimize the risks of divorce. This sounds "preachy". That's exactly how it sounded when my father said it to me:
* Marry someone with similar religious beliefs and values. This is the greatest insurance of a successful marriage.
* Marry someone who understands farming – it's benefits and trials.