When spouses own a business and they are getting divorced, the value of the business becomes a major focus of the division of property.  Dallas Texas Board Certified Divorce Lawyer Michelle May O’Neil explains the concepts of valuation of a closely-held business entity that affect and even minimize the value of a closely-held business entity:

Valuing a business is a complex, and often expensive part of a divorce.  A business consists not only of tangible assets like buildings, bank accounts, inventory, tools, fixtures, furniture and machinery; but also, intangible ones such as mortgages, leases, patents, trademarks, unlisted stock, skilled labor, accounts receivable and most notably, “goodwill.” A business is valued usually based on the fictional assumption of a sale between a willing buyer and willing seller.

The most common legal concept that affects the value of a closely-held business is the distinction between the personal goodwill and commercial goodwill of the business.  The personal goodwill is that goodwill attributable to the person of the business owner.  Take a small bookkeeping firm, for example, owned by a wife.  Most of her clients do business with her company because they like her and trust her work.  her business has no reputation separate from her.  That value of the business attributable to her presence is personal goodwill.  The value of a business attributable to personal goodwill is the spouse’s separate property.

Commercial goodwill, on the other hand, is that  goodwill that exists independent of the business owner.  It is the independent reputation of the ABC Company that exists separate from the business owner.  The value of a business attributable to the commercial goodwill is community property if the business would otherwise be community property.

Also diminishing the value of a business is the frequent occurance where a business remains subject to the control of multiple owners.  This discounts the value to any one of the owners for lack of control.

Another factor that decreases the value of a business involves marketability, which is defined as the ability to convert an investment into cash quickly at a known price and with minimal transaction costs. The more difficult a business would be to sell, the greater the discount for marketability.

Many businesses have "Buy/Sell Agreements".  These cannot be relied upon to calculate a business’ value.  Such agreements typically protect the majority partner interests and rarely reflect actual value.

The best way to approach valuation of a business entity in a divorce is to hire an independent business appraiser—a CPA with an Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV) credential or a certified professional, like a Certified Business Appraiser (CBA) or someone recognized by the American Society of Appraisers (ASA).

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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, 2011-2018, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. In 2014-2018, Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America for 2016 and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.