Business Divorce Attorneys Often Must Help Their Clients Navigate the Emotions of Inter-Family Litigation
Shareholder dispute litigation is often called business divorce litigation. So, if you are involved in such a fight, you need a business divorce attorney to help guide you through the interpersonal, or inter-family, aspects of your case as well as the legal ones.
The first person I ever heard use the term “business divorce” was a New Jersey judge who likened disputes in closely-owned businesses to matrimonial divorces – but without the complication of children. That description is especially accurate in a family-owned business, where the shareholders are all related to each other in one way or another. When you become embroiled in a high-stakes family fight, it is critical to make decisions based on business considerations rather than emotion. And an experienced business divorce litigator should be able to help you see when you are crossing that line.
I have handled business divorce litigations that pitted mother against daughter, father and son against another son and his brother-in-law, and second-generation children of founding brothers against their cousins; and more sibling rivalries than you can imagine. In almost all these cases, the clients had difficulty in getting past the personal issues that were pre-dated but were exacerbated by, the business relationship.
In one recent case, a sister sued her brother and father, claiming theft from the company over a long period. Some of the theft could be recovered in a lawsuit, but some could not, as it was beyond the statute of limitations. The case had almost no hope of settling while the sister focused bitterly on the theft her brother “got away with.” While she had every right to be angry and frustrated, she was only hurting herself by refusing to settle on the perfectly reasonable terms being offered by the other side.
Stubbornly refusing to settle and essentially achieve victory was costing her significant legal fees that she could have stopped at any point. I told her that she was only putting my children through school and that she had better things to do with her money than spend it on litigation where she refused to take “yes” for an answer.
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Finally, she realized that she was only hurting herself by looking at the settlement from her brother’s perspective to see if he was losing enough. Instead, she finally took my advice to look at the proposed settlement from her own perspective to see if she was gaining enough. Allowing her brother to prevent her from accepting a reasonable settlement – purely out of spite – was letting him win. Again. She accepted a settlement that was as good, if not actually better than she would have achieved had we won at trial (we would have!). She saved six figures in legal fees, and she will never have to work again. Had her lawyer not been used to such family fights, and not had the ability to help her put things in the proper perspective, she would still be litigating and spending her retirement savings on legal fees.