The problems in obtaining seasonal labour for British farms hit the headlines with threats of turkey shortages last year, but such pressures can continue well into the New Year sometimes straining marriages to breaking point.

January is usually a busy month for divorce lawyers, as couples finally decide that their marriage has broken down irretrievably. While divorce is never easy, with spouses having to agree how to split their assets and make arrangements for children, it can be particularly complex where agricultural assets are concerned.

Robert Bellhouse family law specialist at Pearsons & Ward Solicitors in Malton explains how it is important to try to preserve the golden goose, by enabling the farm to continue to generate income to support the whole family where possible. He outlines a few of the key considerations for farmers who may be contemplating getting a divorce:

• It’s complicated – a family farm may have been legally structured to cover several generations, and with inheritance tax planning in mind. It may be held in a number of different ways, such as under a trust, by a partnership, via a limited company, or a combination. Ownership may be spread among the wider family involving more than one generation, making it complex to determine and value the assets which each spouse actually owns. Expert valuations may be needed before a fair split can be agreed.

• Preserving the farming business – the starting point for most divorce settlements will be a 50:50 split of all available assets where the value has increased due to the efforts of both parties. When a couple divorces, the family home sometimes needs to be sold off to enable a fair financial settlement. Courts will be loath to force the sale of the farmhouse, as they do not wish to jeopardise the working of the farm. However, this may be necessary to reach a fair financial settlement unless an alternative deal can be worked out, such as ordering payments over a number of years.

• Court is not the only option – it is usually cheaper and quicker for a farming couple to try to reach a financial agreement which merely needs to be rubber-stamped by a judge, rather than engage in a public battle through the courts. We can support you with mediation, collaborative law or negotiation, which may be a good way of achieving an agreement over finances speedily and economically.

• Make full financial disclosure – each spouse will need to give a full disclosure of their respective financial positions. In farming cases, this will include information such as how assets are held, details of the latest farming management accounts, plus a review of income generation and spending.

• Protect and preserve – if a divorce might be on the cards, it may be prudent to limit overdraft facilities and put limits on how much can be withdrawn from bank accounts or spent on credit cards.

• Thinking ahead – while your divorce is going through, you might want to consider having a holding Will drawn up, especially if third parties are involved and assets are held as joint tenants (ie, where the interest of one party passes to the other automatically on death). If you have named your spouse as a beneficiary or executor in your Will, you need to draw up a new one anyway as these provisions will cease to have effect on divorce.

• Put together a good team – to ensure your divorce goes smoothly, a fair settlement reached and any tax issues addressed, you will need advice from a range of professionals. Our family lawyers who specialise in agricultural matters work closely with trusted accountants, land and pension valuers, tax and financial advisors.

For further information contact Robert Bellhouse, in the family law team with Pearsons & Ward Solicitors on Malton 01653 692247 or email