Big Money Divorce Engages Family Judge in Company Valuation

Companies are notoriously difficult to value, and particular problems can arise when they form the principal assets to be divided in divorce proceedings. In a big money case on point, the High Court bridged a huge gulf between the value placed by a wife and a husband on the latter's business interests.

The couple, who had two children, were married for about seven years. The husband's business interests, principally his 40 per cent shareholding in the company he worked for, represented by far their biggest asset. There was a gaping divide of about £9.5 million between the value put on those interests by the wife and that contended for by the husband.

On the basis of expert accountancy evidence, the Court valued the husband's net business assets at a little under £17.9 million. Those assets were agreed to be matrimonial property and the husband was ordered to pay the wife half of their value, a lump sum of £8,948,930. The wife, who was anxious to achieve her financial independence as quickly as possible, argued that the husband should be ordered to sell his shares within 12 months and that, if he failed to do so, a receiver should be appointed to enforce their disposal.

The Court, however, noted that it was not a propitious time to sell the shares, in that the company had just experienced its two worst ever years of trading. The wife, who was from a wealthy background, was not in immediate need of funds and an early forced sale of the shares was likely to cause both her and the husband significant financial loss. The Court therefore set a date about four years in the future when the husband would be required to pay the lump sum in full.

The Court made further orders designed to equalise the couple's other assets and to make provision for their accommodation and other needs. The husband was ordered to make annual maintenance payments to the wife pending remittance of the lump sum, when a clean break would be achieved. He was also required to pay maintenance for the children and to pay their school fees.

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