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LEGAL CORNER Wollen Michelmore


W


ith long hours, social isolation and a volatile industry, it’s no wonder the divorce


rate amongst farmers is on the rise. But when it comes to divorce, farming cases are notoriously difficult to resolve…


WHAT MAKES FARMING DIVORCES SO UNIQUE? More often than not, the farm has been inherited by one spouse whose family have passed it through many generations with an expectation that it will be retained in the family. The existence of complex trusts and ownership


by siblings or wider family can make it difficult to extract capital. Where other family members live and work on the farm, divorce can cause conflict between generations and it is not unusual for third parties to intervene in the court proceedings. Often the only capital is the farmland and buildings, which generate the income. It can be difficult to release that capital without damaging the profits available for both spouses. Ownership can be further complicated by farming


tenancies and agricultural contracting arrangements, making a sale of any part of the farm challenging. Brexit, whether hard or soft, deal or no deal, will


impact farming families and most will suffer a loss of supplemented income. The impact of marriage breakdown on a farm that is struggling could be devastating if not handled carefully. The family farm usually represents not just a home or a business but a way of life and an inextricable link to the farmer’s identity. It can be nigh on impossible to replicate that lifestyle away from the farm.


THE COURT’S APPROACH TO FARMING DIVORCES The crucial objective when a farming couple divorces is to meet both spouses’ needs and achieve fairness without selling assets that might in turn threaten the viability of the farming business. If assets on a farm were inherited or owned by one


Can the Family Farm Survive Divorce? By Ellie Lorimer, Solicitor in Family team,


spouse before the marriage, these are considered ‘non-matrimonial property’ and will not usually be shared if it is possible to meet the other spouse’s needs without doing so. For example, if a farmer has inherited a farm


from his family, the primary aim is to raise capital so that his wife can afford a suitable home for herself, and possibly the children. If there is not sufficient matrimonial property to achieve this, it may be necessary to sell off part of the farm or secure borrowing against it. However, issues with saleability and the risk of damaging the core activity of the farm mean a court might be unwilling to force a sale. If the farm is also owned by wider family then this will need careful consideration. The court will be reluctant to damage the livelihoods of third parties. Another issue is paying maintenance out of the


farm income. The lifestyle sustained by a farm may seem higher than the income it actually yields. When that income is shared between two households, there may be a significant drop in standard of living.


FIRST STEPS With so many complexities, farming divorces require early, practical and commercially-focused advice from an experienced family solicitor. Instructing a solicitor with farming expertise who will adopt the correct strategy from the outset may well save time and mon- ey in the long run. A good starting point is to gather together as much


Relax... Offi ces at


Dartmouth 01803 832191


whilst we take the stress out of the situation


information as possible about the farm. A map of the farmland, family tree, valuations (possibly done for mortgage purposes), details of mortgages and who owns which plot of land will all be helpful. If you have any questions about farming and di-


Torquay 01803 213251


vorce, please contact Ellie Lorimer at Wollen Michel- more. Ellie.lorimer@wmlegal.co.uk 01803 832191


The Devon Law Firm www.wollenmichelmore.co.uk


Wollen Michelmore SOLICITORS


Newton Abbot 01626 332266


Wollen Michelmore LLP is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority - SRA No 565599 Family Disputes Business Property Private


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