His face was weathered and worn as he approached me with wrinkled brows. “You talked about the fear of spousal break-up, and I’m curious how do I create a firewall to protect my farm?” (Note he said “my farm,” not OUR farm).
The firewall word picture fits our computer’s security, but I wonder if the approach of building a wall of protection around your farm is a good analogy?
Who and What Do You Want to Keep Out?
1. The In-Laws?
I have witnessed farm teams who have a strict policy of not letting any spouses of the business partners have decision making power. This is not my value system, where I think many minds together can collaborate with respect to make great business plans and execute many different skill sets. What if your daughter-in-law, the graduate from plant science would make a great agronomist on your farm? Keeping out skilled workers on the basis of their marital status is not smart.
2. The Trouble Makers?
Many farm business meetings go off track because adult siblings cannot stay calm and collected as they express their views. They are likely exhausted, suffering from role overload, and likely need to hire outside help. Folks who earn bad reputations with consistent bad behavior are part of the conflict avoidance culture of agriculture. I have said before, that you are getting the behavior that you accept. Why are you not asking the angry person what their true issue is? Can you do a conflict dynamic profile and get to the bottom of their hot buttons? I provide these tools online for a small fee of 40 dollars per person.
3. The Girlfriends or Boyfriends?
Once adult children start dating and joining living space with partners or spouses, you get to choose if you are going to learn alongside them or judge them forever for making what you think is a poor life mate decision. Get over it. It’s not just young people who bail out of relationships after a few hard years of not being able to adjust, it could also be the founder’s spouse who is ditching a 33-year marriage for new pastures. Divorce is part of reality for many families. If you check out my blog “How to Prevent Divorce on the Farm” you’ll recall that once the partnership of love is formed, you’ll likely have a stronger healthier firewall if there is tons of love and respect to go around for everyone. Respectful communication helps, too.
4. The Mentally Ill?
I have seen transition plans stall out due to the inability of the family members struggling with mental health issues and their refusal to seek medical or psychological help or treatment. Depression may have seven different forms. If someone on your team just doesn’t seem to be happy, stops connecting with friends, or doesn’t want to get out of bed, you need to find help. Rather than planning for a firewall, how about reaching out to your family doctor, mental health worker or counselor?
5. The Addicts?
Working too much is a common farm trait that drives marriage apart when the cows are deemed more important than the human relationship as a couple. Alcohol addiction can also cause folks to stop trying to repair an issue that needs to be addressed by the person with the disease. Again, addictions cannot be stopped by having a firewall of agreements on paper, they require that the person suffering get past their denial and seek help.
Prenuptial agreements and marriage contracts may be a tool that your farm wants to explore. I advise you to seek out a great agriculturally aware lawyer and get a solid word of mouth referral from farmers who have witnessed good work. Don’t be stuck by bad stories and assume no lawyer is going to be helpful. Seek out CAFA to search the directory of law firms that specialize in ag. I would recommend John Stewart and Mona Brown in Manitoba as two of my top picks.
I know a 90-year-old farm woman who is in her second marriage to a farmer over 90 who is in his 3rd marriage. They have a prenuptial agreement to keep their farm estates separate. Each day to them is a definite gift.
Another farm daughter who recently remarried was very clear with her new husband that he and his children would not be entitled to her farm assets which she just recently inherited from her farming parents. They have a prenuptial agreement in place as well.
We all know that paper contracts can help people behave better. We also recognize that when a couple commits to loving each other forever, 50% of marriages fail. These sobering facts might drive you to take a different approach than building a wall.
Building a Firewall Against Divorce
Build Love and Respect
Be the gracious person that attracts amazing success by the way you treat others.
Give Everyone a Voice at the Decision-Making Table and Input for the Farm’s Vision
If folks buy into the vision they are more likely to keep working in good times and in bad.
Treat Illness When it First Appears
Don’t allow secret keeping around tough issues like mental illness, dementia, and addiction. Build a circle of support around the person who is ill.
Face Your Fears
Strong farmers with rough hands and weathered faces are allowed to cry. So are the female farmers who are well-educated and feeling like they can not find a path to shine on their farms. If the crying is chronic, seek medical help.
Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help
There are great lawyers, accountants, financial planners, and coaches who can help you navigate the ways to create more certainty for the security of your farm assets.
Have a Marriage Contract Agreement as Part of Your Standard Business Policy
So that each potential successor who weds gets the same treatment as their siblings or cousins who have gone before them.
Make Quick Repairs
See good conflict resolution as a great risk management tool for your farm and your farm’s future. You use firewalls on your computers. Technology helps us, but we still need to be able to ask another person, “Are you okay? Would you like me to do something differently? What is it that I am doing that is pushing your hot button?”