Business valuations in divorce | Challenges in valuing businesses in divorce

Our team of valuation experts at Price Bailey LLP regularly advises on the value of businesses in divorce and the head of our Strategic Corporate Finance team, Simon Blake, is an experienced expert witness for the Court on Matrimonial/ Divorce valuations. In this two part article, our experts explain why you need a valuation in divorce, how it is conducted and what to expect from the process. In this second part, we focus on the unique challenges associated with valuing a business in divorce.

Information exchange

Due to the nature of the circumstances in divorce, the primary challenge is often caused by distrust between the two parties. This can present challenges surrounding what information is shared, how it’s shared and the valuer being able to make a judgement on what is reliable and what is not.

In every divorce situation there is a significant exchange of information and when the valuer comes in, they need to both deal with the direct valuation questions, but also pick up on anything that could impact on it. This extends to aspects where there may be a belief that some of the information provided needs to be taken into consideration, even if it is not directly relevant.

It is natural for individuals to have different recollections or understanding of events that have happened in the business, whether both parties are actively involved in the business or not. However, the valuation expert’s responsibility is to think critically about how or if that information is used, in order to calculate the valuation in light of the right circumstances.

A recent example

We recently completed a report that involved reviewing a significant amount of data regarding the business and the divorce.

In this particular example, one party had understood that there had been offers made by other corporates to purchase the business. There was no clear evidence from data provided that suggested these offers had ever materialised, but the other party believed they had. Therefore, in this situation, we took the decision, having carefully reviewed all the evidence provided, that there was no reliable basis on which we felt we could use it in our valuation conclusion.

However, when constructing the report, we still acknowledged it in our notes because if we had not, one or both parties may think that it had been ignored and provoke questions.

We will always consider everything provided by the parties, whether they have direct involvement in the business or not, but we can only base the valuation on factual evidence, and not individuals’ opinions of what did or did not happen.

One of the advantages of our position as an independent expert is that, if we have a scenario where one party is significantly involved in the business and the other is not, the less involved party should have comfort from the fact that someone who is completely objective and removed from the business is reporting on the value discretely and independently. Our responsibility is to the Court and ensure that we get the facts right in considering the valuation. Any suspicion between the two parties should then be largely removed. The expert’s duty is to the Court, rather than either party.

COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on many businesses for the last two years. This creates a whole raft of additional considerations that a valuation expert will need to look at when assessing a business’s accounts during that period.

The first part is to unpick the events that occurred in the business as a consequence of COVID-19 and understand the impact it had on performance. It is everyone’s hope that the pandemic is a one off event, meaning that businesses should be able to focus now on what future performance is likely.

Some businesses have also had a particularly good performance period during COVID-19 on both volume and, in some cases such as PPE providers, on profit too. That performance is, for many, not going to be repeatable at the same levels as was seen early on in the pandemic, which will have a direct impact on expected profits going into 2022 and beyond.

Putting aside for a moment that we are valuing for divorce purposes, any valuation ought to reflect the future value of the business, rather than the past. Independent valuation experts will be operating on this basis.

 

How is the valuation reported?

Valuations in divorce tend to be in a formal report format. In the case that we are acting just for one party it might be that it is more of an advisory report, rather than a formal report. However, when acting as a single joint expert then it is always a formal report for the court.

What are the parties’ rights to dispute a valuation?

Each party has the opportunity to submit questions to the expert on the valuation. However, there are certain guidelines surrounding any questions:

  • they cannot involve the introduction of new information to the situation, and
  • they cannot be to challenge the outcome based on differences in opinion.
  • Any questions must only clarify something factual.

Occasionally these questions will result in amendments or supplements to the report – but that does tend to be rare.

Ultimately, any valuation is an opinion, it is not an exact science as the same information can be used and interpreted in a multitude of ways depending on the methodology applied. Therefore, there is always the likelihood that one valuation expert could draw a different conclusion to another. However, the importance comes in how they reached that result and often it comes down to what information was shared with them, and how.

If you, or your client is currently going through a divorce and looking for a valuation of a business, our team of SCF experts would be happy to support you. Please contact a member of the SCF team using the form below, and we will be in touch.

We always recommend that you seek advice from a suitably qualified adviser before taking any action. The information in this article only serves as a guide and no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of this material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.

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