Alberta is a province with deep agricultural roots. Though most of us are well aware of this, many of us do not truly understand the culture or day to day operations of our agriculture community and way of life on a family farm or ranch. Unique issues that may not necessarily come up in other relationship breakdown cases thus come with the territory with farm or ranch divorces.
Vogel LLP lawyers Kathryn Tweedie and Aida Rafie recently attended a Legal Education Society of Alberta Seminar on Advanced Matrimonial Property that included a presentation entitled “Farm and Ranch Divorces”, by family lawyer Catherine Regier. This presentation provided some information about divorces on the family farm or ranch and affirmed the importance of being aware of this important area of family law, especially when it comes to the handling of agricultural assets.
Some of the unique issues that farmers or ranchers may face in this category include:
- Any agreements that may pre-exist between the spouses – This involves the importance of preserving the business for future generations;
- The value of the land itself – In addition to the priceless value created by the love of the land itself, there are a number of physical, legal and economical qualities that affect land value;
- How the farm/ranch business is carried out operationally – This can affect the value of the business and/or assets and result in certain tax issues;
- Machinery, Equipment and other Inventory – While many farmers have a good idea about the value of their equipment, it is important to understand these values and have a photographic inventory of these assets;
- Existing leases on the land – Including Cultivation and Grazing Leases;
- Varying Income Sources – Important to understand when it comes to determining the appropriate amount of support that may need to be paid;
- Matrimonial Property Exemptions; and
- Settlement Issues – Including many concerns, both emotional and business based in terms of how spouses are to handle payouts, continue to have a viable operation and ensure minimal impact to their current way of life.
Farmers and ranchers have had their word as their bond for generations and often approach agreements in their business with “a promise and a handshake”. While family law does not work that way (unfortunately), it is important that the proper care is taken to ensure that the unique issues, values and avenues that come with this territory are addressed properly, in order to ensure that the best possible conclusion can be reached for our clients.