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A FIRM GRIP ON DIVORCE

01-03-2007

After “duvet days” how about “divorce days”? Top Birmingham lawyer Dianne Benussi reckons it's time companies began recognising one of the realities of modern life and started planning for their workers marital breadowns.

It has never been harder to run a successful business. Failure rates increased dramatically in 2005 and the figures for last year are expected to be even more disheartening. Higher interest rates, a slowdown in consumer spending and ever growing utility costs are key factors.

Another factor, rarely acknowledged, is divorce. With one in four marriages failing, it is inevitable that many company directors and senior managers will go through what is a very difficult, lengthy and often traumatic experience.

Consequently, divorce can have a disastrous effect on a company's performance. High-powered men and women used to making hard-headed business decisions may find themselves immobilised by inner turmoil, so much so that they take their eye off the ball professionally.

This can be true even of those who ‘throw' themselves into their work: they might believe that by doing so they are blocking out the pain of their divorce, but it's highly unlikely they will be operating with their usual efficiency and effectiveness.

Once a company's performance starts to slide because the finance director or owner-manager is distracted by legal battles over access to children, maintenance payments and the sale of the family home, there is a danger he or she will seek solace in a new relationship. Far from solving the company's problems, this can exacerbate the situation, as a heady dalliance can be as emotionally consuming as the divorce process.

With more than 150,000 divorces granted in the UK each year, the impact of marital collapse on the fortunes of businesses, small and large, is incalculable. Yet few firms appear either to recognise this or do anything about it.

Just as industry has embraced the particular needs of working parents, so now it must address the problems caused by divorce. It has to acknowledge that someone in the throes of dissolving their marriage requires time off work to visit their lawyer and attend court hearings.

It needs to understand that an employee who has been up all night rowing about who keeps the family pet is not going to be firing on all cylinders.

Companies should do all they can to help speed up the divorce process, as the sooner a marriage is formally ended and the financial aspect settled, the sooner people can move on with their lives.

I recall one client telling me that although his business faltered while he was going through his divorce, he felt ‘totally refocused' when it was over and, as a result, his firm went from strength to strength.

So, for example, a company lawyer might be able to recommend a specialist matrimonial solicitor to get the process started quickly. Ideally, a firm will provide or pay for counselling and, in extreme cases, might consider drafting in interim management if a senior executive is embroiled in a messy divorce.

Last, but not least, a boss must be sympathetic. After all, long working hours and career-related stress are common triggers or contributory factors in marital breakdown.

Divorce, sadly, is a fact of life and when it happens it has to be managed properly - both for the emotional health of the company worker and the financial health of the company.

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