Given the intertwined nature of personal and commercial factors at play in a family owned business, it’s natural for the enterprise to wind up in the center of an owner’s divorce dispute. An equity ownership in a private company often represents the largest component of an owner’s personal net worth. Calculating its overall value for the equitable distribution of marital property plays a significant role in the financial aspect of divorce proceedings. Below, we outline several steps to help owners assess the value of the family owned business during a divorce settlement.
Examine and recast five years of financial data
A sustainable level of profits is one of the biggest factors that drives value. Looking back at five years of financial statements and tax returns provides a good sample size of the business’ activities and trends. From there, income statements may require adjustment, eliminating any unusual and nonrecurring income or expense items. Typical expense adjustments might include changes to officer compensation, fringe benefits and related party rents.
Review normalized profitability
Recasting expenses to a normalized level creates a true economic profit level for the company, exposing the entity’s actual financial performance. Making those adjustments can often be an educational experience for the owners, as the normalized results may look quite different from the financial data reported on income tax returns and year-end financial statements. As a result, the owners may find out their businesses make significantly more or less profits than they realized.
To determine value, an asset-based approach, income approach or market approach can be used. In the case of a business with an adequate level of normalized profits, it is most appropriate to use an income-based approach. Under this approach, a normalized profit level can be divided by a risk rate to equate a measure of value. While it may seem simple on paper, it is a complex process to measure those two elements in the formula. Because of the scrutiny and debate around the assumptions made and results obtained during the divorce process, it is best to tap the judgment and expertise of a professional business valuation expert.
Impact of valuation discounts
The privately owned business is not readily marketable like a publicly traded stock. This marketability factor may result in a significant investment in time and transaction costs before the owner can receive any cash from the sale of their business. In addition, the value of an ownership interest in a closely held business is seldom equal to a proportionate share of the total value determined from the various valuation approaches. If the owner is not the majority shareholder (ownership of greater than 50 percent), the stock may be treated as a non-controlling interest. Estimating the valuation discounts associated with a lack of marketability or lack of control is a process best left up to a professional valuation expert, particularly since these factors can be frequently disputed as the underlying value of the marital asset is determined.
Other factors in measuring a business’ marital value
If the business was started before the marriage occurred, then its value at the date of the marriage is considered non-marital. And, if any business interest was received through an inheritance or gift, that value at the date of receipt is considered non-marital. In these cases, only the appreciation that occurs during the marriage would be considered marital property.
Often a small business owner represents a significant portion of the enterprise value, maintaining most of the critical relationships or operational skills. Continued success can be dependent on the owner’s unique attributes. Where these skills cannot easily transfer to another owner is referred to as personal goodwill. Under Pennsylvania law, personal goodwill is not considered martial property. The difficulties in measuring the business owner’s personal attributes and quantifying personal goodwill presents an additional challenge to the valuation process.
Determining the value of a family business is a critical step in completing the property settlement phase in a divorce. There are many factors to consider, and, with the high degree of professional judgment required, it is important to address the business value issue early in the process. This allows both parties and their respective advisers time to gain a good understanding of the overall property value of the marital estate.
Given the complexity of the factors outlined above and the high degree of professional judgment required, family business owners should rely on an expert to gain a thorough and comprehensive assessment of the overall property value of the marital estate. RKL’s team of business consultants has deep experience in a variety of valuation circumstances – contact us today to learn how we can serve your valuation needs.
Contributed by Francis D. Morris, CPA, ABV, CFF, a Manager in RKL’s Business Consulting Services Group. Frank has experience conducting valuations and financial analysis for a variety of transactions, including divorce proceedings and business sales.