Dear Carolyn,  

I own a small business, and I think my wife is planning on leaving me. All the signs are there. She stays out late, bought a new wardrobe and goes to the gym. So she leaves. How will my business be divided? I started the company during my marriage. I am worried I will owe her too much money.


Carolyn Answers,

You are correct that small businesses acquired during the marriage are marital property. As such, the business is subject to valuation and distribution in the equitable distribution. Businesses are initially valued at the date of separation. The business valuation needs to be performed by a competent, credentialed business appraiser. Two of the certifying bodies are the National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts (NACVA) and the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA). Both organizations have testing processes for designations, which for NACVA is the CVA and for the AICPA is ABV. Both organizations have high ethical standards.

The three approaches used by business valuator are the asset, income, and market approaches. The result may be a calculation of value or an opinion of value. One needs an opinion of value for trial, but a calculation may be helpful in a mediation and is less expensive.

For your consideration, you might find a business appraiser and find out what your business is worth for purposes of equitable distribution. You will then be prepared and less worried. Write me again if you need a referral to a competent business valuation professional.


Send your questions on family law and divorce matters to “Ask Carolyn…” at, or P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro, NC  27427.  Please do not put identifying information in your questions.  Note that the answers in “Ask Carolyn” are intended to provide general legal information, and the answers are not specific legal advice for your situation.  The column also uses hypothetical questions.  A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need in your individual case.  Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by “Ask Carolyn…”