Getting divorced can be complicated – and never more so than when it comes to a farming divorce.
Currently, 42 per cent of all marriages end in divorce and there are a number of factors which make farming couples particularly vulnerable to relationship breakdown including long hours, money worries, stress and social isolation.
Add to this, the fact that the fastest rise in divorce rates is in those over 50, coupled with the average age of a farmer being 60, and you can see that the outlook is not entirely rosy.
‘Notoriously difficult to resolve’
Back in 2004, Judge Justice Wilson commented that when it came to sorting out the financial side of divorce, including the family home and pensions that typically represent the majority of matrimonial assets in a marriage, farming cases were particularly problematic.
Talking about a case he was presiding over at the time, he said: “This is a farming case; and ancillary relief farming cases are notoriously difficult to resolve….the case is almost, although I believe not quite, insoluble, it is a case where it is far easier to criticise a solution than to devise one.”
And things have not changed since then.
Why are farming divorces different to other divorces?
Very often, farms are handed down from generation to generation, sometimes over centuries. They tend to be asset rich and cash poor.
As well as being a business, they are truly family concerns and this frequently means that the farm itself is held in diverse forms of ownership, making it difficult to identify exactly who owns what.
Then there is the fact that very often the spouse, and any children, live and work on the farm, which is also the family home, meaning that the divorce has far reaching implications for the whole family as well as the farmer.
All this means that it is rarely as simple as selling the family home and dividing the assets and the difficulty lies in how to provide fairly for the financial needs of both parties without jeopardising the farming business and at the same time preserving it for future generations.
When it comes to divorce, fairness is seen as key – and farming divorces are no exception.
However, an equal division of assets and wealth is not always achievable because of the need to preserve assets owned long before any marriage began.
What can be said though is that judges do their upmost to avoid the forced sale of any assets which might threaten the viability of the farm as a business.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), including mediation, collaboration and arbitration, can play a key role in reaching an amicable settlement when it comes to a farming divorce – and crucially, can avoid having to go to court which can be not only expensive but time consuming and stressful.
For more information and advice on this area of the law please contact our Family Law and Divorce team.