And you thought you were paying support…

A fun story about a New York wife who needs $53,000 – per week! – in support from her husband, the former United Technologies chairman George David. Well, she’s a countess, after all.

Another Big Decision: Personal Goodwill in Kentucky

Apparently the new frontier in divorce litigation is personal goodwill. Following closely on the heels of May (W.Va.2003) and other divorce decisions, the Supreme Court of Kentucky held recently that the non-transferrable goodwill of a professional practice was properly excluded from the marital estate.

The subject business in Gaskill v. Robbins (2/17/09) was an oral surgery practice, operated by the wife, without associate professionals. The wife’s expert presented an asset-based valuation, giving no value to goodwill because “Gaskill’s role in the business amounted to a ‘non-marketable controlling interest.'” The wife’s expert reasoned that no buyer would pay more than the fair market value of hard assets when the wife could set up shop down the hall and attract her patients away from the old practice.

The husband’s expert considered several approaches: capitalization of earnings, excess earnings, net asset value, and market comparables. He averaged these approaches to arrive at a valuation that included goodwill and a non-compete agreement. He also criticized the opinion of the wife’s expert who had doubled the compensation of the wife’s non-professional staff, thereby depressing earnings.

The trial court adopted the valuation of the husband’s expert, reasoning that the salary adjustment made by the wife’s expert was unreasonable, and noting that Kentucky law did not recognize a distinction between enterprise goodwill and personal goodwill.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals reversed, holding that not all businesses have goodwill; and the Supreme Court of Kentucky affirmed that reversal on other grounds.

In its Opinion, the highest court of Kentucky examined the fair market value standard and the meaning of “goodwill” in the context of business valuation. The Kentucky court noted that none of its prior decisions had specifically considered the difference between enterprise goodwill and personal goodwill but none had prohibited such an analysis. The Court recognized that the reputation and skill of this professional practice were closely associated with the wife and might not be transferrable to a buyer. The Court also noted that professional degrees are not regarded as marital property to be divided upon divorce under Kentucky law.

The Kentucky Supreme Court also considered the decision of the West Virginia Supreme Court in May v. May (2003), which contained a survey of cases dealing with goodwill nation-wide. May, in turn, relied heavily upon the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision in Yoon v. Yoon (1999), which distinguished between transferrable enterprise goodwill and non-transferrable personal goodwill. Ultimately, the Kentucky court aligned itself with these courts in reaching that distinction.

See also Helfer (W.Va.2007); Stewart (Idaho 2007); Hess (Maine 2007).

Gaskill joins a long list of cases that distinguish personal goodwill from enterprise goodwill in the context of professional practices. It will be interesting to see, in the future, whether these courts will extend this rationale to other types of businesses, where the reputation, skills and efforts of the business owner spouse are not so easily associated with the goodwill of the business.

SRR Answers “Taxing” Year-End Questions

The forensic accounting firm of Stout Risius Ross Advisors LLC has published an excellent guide to year-end tax questions that separated and divorcing spouses may have:

1.) What is my filing status for 2008? Your filing status is determined as of the last day of the calendar year. You are considered unmarried for the whole year if, on the last day of your tax year, you are unmarried or legally separated from your spouse under a divorce or separate maintenance decree. Your filing status will be either single or head of household.

2.) How can I qualify to file as head of household? In general, you must meet the following requirements to file as head of household.

1. You are unmarried or “considered unmarried” on the last day of the year.

2. You paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for the year.

3. Your home was the main home of your child for more than half the year.

4. You must be able to claim an exemption for the child. However, you meet this test if you cannot claim the exemption only because you waived the right to claim the child pursuant to your divorce decree.

3.) What if my ex and I have the child an equal amount of time?
If the child lived with each parent the same amount of time during the year, the parent with the higher adjusted gross income has the right to the head of household filing status.

4.) Who claims the exemptions for our children? In most cases, a child of divorced or separated parents will qualify as a dependent of the custodial parent under the rules for a qualifying child. However, the noncustodial parent may be able to claim the exemption for the child if the special rule (discussed next) applies. Special rule for divorced or separated parents. A child will be treated as the qualifying child or qualifying relative of his or her noncustodial parent if all of the following apply.

1. The parents: a. Are divorced or legally separated under a decree of divorce or separate maintenance, b. Are separated under a written separation agreement, or c. Lived apart at all times during the last 6 months of the year.

2. The child received over half of his or her support for the year from the parents.

3. The child is in the custody of one or both parents for more than half of the year.

4. The custodial parent signs a written declaration, discussed later, that he or she will not claim the child as a dependent for the year, and the noncustodial parent attaches this written declaration to his or her return.

If the parents divorced or separated during the year and the child lived with both parents before the separation, the custodial parent is the one with whom the child lived for the greater part of the rest of the year.

More answers are available at SRR’s website.