I recently attended a program on the financial issues in farm divorce presented by another rural attorney with 20+ years of experience dealing with the nuances of farm divorce and rural practice. About halfway into a discussion on disparate division of assets when dealing with struggling farms, a very important attorney interrupted the speaker with a question. You could tell this person was a very important because she introduced herself as Jane Smith with the law firm of Dead White Guy, Really Old White Guy, Old White Guy, and White Guy (a venerable metropolitan big law firm), was impeccably dressed in a tailored power suit, carried herself in a predatory manner that screamed “I’m just waiting for my stress-induced myocardial infarction”, and prefaced her question with “while the majority of my practice is metropolitan, I’ve handled 3 farm divorces” before launching in to a 5 minute critique of the educational levels of the clients she had represented, that any farm should be classified as struggling, the gall of the rural courts for even considering granting any thing other than a strictly equitable division of the assets, and the audacity of her client, and the opposing counsel and his client (apparently they did not listen to her dictates as to how things should be done). Apparently, this was a hot button issue for her. But lady, it’s apparent that you’re not from around here.
Now, I have to admit that she had a very valid main point – from a metropolitan point of view it makes little sense to accept a settlement that pays 38 cents on the dollar when there are millions of dollars of assets available in the form of land, buildings, equipment, livestock, and crops both in the field and at the elevator. After all the equitable solution would be to divide assets & debts equally; to sell off and settle up. However, from a rural perspective, it can and often does make sense to settle for 38 cents on the dollar if it means that the departing spouse walks off with cash in their pocket and the knowledge that their ex still has the potential to continue earning a living and to be in a position to pay support and maintenance – selling off and settling up means selling off someone’s means of employment. It can and often does make sense to take that 38 cents on the dollar if the departing spouse was not actively involved in the farming operation because this spouse is more likely to have an off-farm job and a regular paycheck. But lady, you need to check that attitude at the city limits, ’cause it’s just going to raise the hackles of us country folk and sure hits a number of my buttons. (more…)