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Family Law Blog

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Farming futures protected by the advent of ADR

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There are few areas of life that remain steeped in tradition and still practised as they were several decades ago. For most people, times change and things move on. It could be argued that law is one of the areas most resistant to that change, for many of the reasons I have mentioned in previous blogs. Firms run by non-business people, a reluctance to make it easy for people to pay, or use emails to send documents and make agreements, or insisting on face-to-face meetings in high street offices. Another sector you could say is more traditional than most is farming – though perhaps not with such negative connotations.

While it has adopted new technology and advances in animal breeding and crop cultivation, farming is an area where inheritance and succession of the family business for children is still strong, perhaps more so than in any other sector. And recent changes to family law could make it easier for farming couples to ensure their children’s inheritance of the farm is safeguarded if they divorce in the future.

Family Procedure Rules came into force in April 6 and, as we know, insist that couples pursue alternative dispute resolution (ADR) as a way of reaching a settlement if they are divorcing, rather than relying on going to court. Both mediation and collaborative divorce – the most common forms of ADR – are widely seen as being more beneficial to safeguarding the future of “going concerns”, like a working family farm, so that the division of assets does not cripple the business.

In many professions, if there is a business involved in a divorce or family break-up, it may be that part of it has to be sold to ensure one party gets their share of the settlement, with the starting point often being a 50/50 split. In farming circles, it is just not practical. Thrashing out a deal over complicated holdings and where the assets include animals and very specialised, expensive machinery, would make it difficult for day-to-day life to continue as normal on the farm. Selling off part of the business could leave the remainder in no fit state to continue as a functioning, viable farm. This will not only “hurt” the partner who wants to stay in the business but also affect the next generation who might expect to take over the farm in due course.

If a farming family is looking likely to divorce, both parties need to seek expert advice from an experienced family lawyer. These cases are far more complex than most and there needs to be an understanding of the farming process, way leaves, boundaries, farming payments etc. In the meantime, farm life goes on even if domestic life is falling apart. Any distraction from the day-to-day running of the farm could be damaging and an aggressive divorce dispute could be shattering for the next generation’s succession or inheritance.

Andrew Woolley
Family solicitor

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