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Houston lawyer: How to navigate business valuation and divorce in uncertain times

Divorce is never easy, but here's how to navigate it with your business in mind. Photo via Pexels

We all hoped that, once the pandemic had waned, we would return to a more normal, predictable economy, but it seems that we are confronted now with even more unpredictability in what economists have dubbed the “uncertainty economy.” Very few people are able to choose the best time to divorce on the basis of finances, but the current environment can make evaluating the worth of stock options, a closely held business or even real estate highly challenging.

For one thing, the pandemic itself lingers. Some businesses—bicycle manufacturers and bicycle shops, for instance—experienced boom times during the pandemic. Other businesses—restaurants and businesses at tourist locations, for instance—suffered greatly, limped along, or even closed for good. Now, instead of settling into a steady hum again, our economy is coping with inflation, the rising cost of labor, supply chain tangles, and the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia. The situation is still fluid. What works today may not work well tomorrow. What doesn’t look promising today may be much more successful tomorrow.

In a divorce case in which significant financial assets are involved that are community property, a family lawyer will bring in a trusted professional business or property evaluator—whatever is appropriate for the particular situation. Evaluating a closely held business is often the most difficult issue—more difficult than, say, dividing the value of real estate or stock in a publicly traded company. Three different methods can be applied to a business valuation: the market approach, the income approach, and the asset approach. The business evaluator will judge which to use, singly or in combination.

Much will depend on the ownership agreement as expressed in formation documents, whether the owners be investors, business partners or family members. These documents generally provide in some way for what will occur in the case of a divorce or a death. Generally, co-owners do not want to have to deal with an inexperienced ex-spouse or widow/widower who abruptly becomes part-owner of the business or practice (in the case of a doctor or lawyer in a partnership). The spouse who is in the business also has to consider tax issues and his or her fiduciary duty to other owners. And courts are not allowed to simply give corporate assets or debts to one party or the other in a divorce.

Generally the spouse involved in the closely held business will have three choices available: continue to own the business with the ex-spouse (maybe they already work together and have a decent working relationship), sell the business and divide the profits, or offset the value of the business ownership with other property if other assets are available. In Texas, “personal goodwill” as part of a business is not community property. It attaches to the person who created it. But the business may have “enterprise goodwill”--the value of the business apart from the individual owner--which may be community property.

None of this addresses the issue of the fluidity in the current economy. Divorce agreements can allow for that in the form of contingency agreements. For example, a business owner may be dealing with a specific potential liability. The divorce agreement may provide that, for a given period of time, the business owner is allowed to set aside a certain amount of money to address the liability if it arises. If it does not arise, after a certain period of time, the money will be divided between the two former spouses. Or let’s say a business asset with limited liability or future involvement that is part of community property may be sold in the future. A divorce agreement can provide that, if the asset is sold, the profits will be shared. Clawback provisions can be included, as well, to provide for future adjustments. This will require extraordinary drafting skill.

There is another option as well and that is to wait for more settled times. But the two spouses may have radically opposed views as to the “best” time for the divorce. The spouse who earns less may want to divorce when community property values are at their highest; the other spouse will want to split when community property values are at their lowest. In either case, they would do well to consult experts in family law and business valuation experts before deciding on when to set a divorce in motion.

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Susan Myres is a Houston-based, board-certified family law attorney at Myres & Associates and has over 35 years of experience.

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Building Houston

 
 

This Houston-based SPAC has announced the tech company it plans to merge with. Photo courtesy of Gow Media

A Houston SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, has announced the company it plans to merge with in the new year.

Beaumont-based Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc., a provider of thermal imaging platforms, and Houston-based SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: SMAP), a publicly-traded SPAC with $117 million held in trust, announced their agreement for ICI to IPO via SPAC.

Originally announced in the fall of last year, the blank-check company is led by David Gow, CEO and chairman. Gow is also chairman and CEO of Gow Media, which owns digital media outlets SportsMap, CultureMap, and InnovationMap, as well as the SportsMap Radio Network, ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

The deal will close in the first half of 2023, according to a news release, and the combined company will be renamed Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc. and will be listed on NASDAQ under a new ticker symbol.

“ICI is extremely excited to partner with David Gow and SportsMap as we continue to deliver our innovative software and hardware solutions," says Gary Strahan, founder and CEO of ICI, in the release. "We believe our software and sensor technology can change the way companies across industries perform predictive maintenance to ensure reliability, environmental integrity, and safety through AI and machine learning.”

Strahan will continue to serve as CEO of the combined company, and Gow will become chairman of the board. The transaction values the combined company at a pre-money equity valuation of $100 million, according to the release, and existing ICI shareholders will roll 100 percent of their equity into the combined company as part of the transaction.

“We believe ICI is poised for strong growth," Gow says in the release. "The company has a strong value proposition, detecting the overheating of equipment in industrial settings. ICI also has assembled a strong management team to execute on the opportunity. We are delighted to combine our SPAC with ICI.”

Founded in 1995, ICI provides infrared and imaging technology — as well as service, training, and equipment repairs — to various businesses and individuals across industries.

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