Can a sole trader business be part of the asset pool?

Sole trader asset pool

By Ezra Sarajinsky

· Read time: 4 minutes

When couples undergo separation or divorce, businesses that are owned by one or both members of the couple can constitute part of the ‘asset pool’ – including a business that is operated as a sole trader. 

Managing a business as a sole trader is very common. However this structure can blur the lines between personal and business assets, sometimes raising complex legal questions about asset categorisation.

Understanding the ‘Asset Pool’ in Family Law

In Australian family law, the ‘asset pool‘ includes all tangible and intangible assets owned jointly or individually by the parties in a divorce. 

This pool encompasses everything from real estate and investments to business equipment and intellectual property. 

For a sole trader, it’s important to determine which assets from the business should legally be included in this collective pool.

Criteria for Inclusion of Sole Trader Business in the Asset Pool

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The primary considerations for including a sole trader’s business in the asset pool involve the interconnection between the business and personal finances, the duration of the business operation, and its contribution to household income. 

If business finances are significantly intertwined with personal accounts, or if the business was established or significantly developed during the relationship, it is likely to be considered part of the communal assets.

Additionally, the duration the business has been in operation and its financial contributions to the household income are also assessed to determine inclusion in the asset pool.

Legal and Financial Assessment of Sole Trader Businesses

Legally, assets used predominantly for generating business revenue are often included in the asset pool. A detailed financial assessment, reviewing profit and loss statements and the overall financial contribution of the business to the household, helps determine the extent of this inclusion. Assets that play a significant role in supporting the household’s financial stability are more likely to be included in the settlement.

Financial Assessment

The financial assessment involves scrutinising the sole trader’s business records to determine the contribution of the business assets to the household income.

This includes reviewing profit and loss statements, asset depreciation, and capital investments to evaluate how integral the business assets are to the financial health and stability of the sole trader’s household.

Assets that significantly contribute to the household’s overall financial standing are more likely to be included in the asset pool during settlements or legal judgments.

Business Valuation and Its Impact

The valuation processes may consider both the current financial health of the business and its potential for future earnings. 

The distinction between personal and business-related assets is important here, as it can impact the overall perceived value of the business and, consequently, the financial outcomes of the property settlement.

Practical Examples

Consider a freelance graphic designer who uses personal computers and software for both work and leisure. The valuation of these tools for the asset pool would require an analysis of their use proportionately between business and personal activities. 

Similarly, a plumber operating as a sole trader using their personal vehicle for work and family errands may need to evaluate what percentage of the vehicle’s value relates to the business.

Protecting The Assets of a Sole Trader

For sole traders, protecting business assets from legal claims in a divorce involves meticulous financial management and clear documentation. Keeping separate accounts for business and personal finances and maintaining detailed records of asset use and transactions establishes a clear boundary between personal and business assets. 

Best Practices for Documenting Sole Trader Assets

Effective record-keeping is vital. Maintaining detailed logs of purchases, usage, and expenses strictly for the business substantiates claims during asset evaluations. 

Using software tools that categorise transactions and automatically update ledgers can also help ensure all business-related financial activity is recorded accurately.

Conclusion: Managing Risks Associated with Sole Trader Asset Pool

Deciding whether to include a sole trader’s business in the asset pool requires careful legal and financial consideration. Whether a sole trader business will be included into the asset pool, and/or how it is valued, is a case by case scenario. 

The extent to which value is placed on the business may largely be determined by the value (revenue / profit) of the business asset. In many cases it may not have enough worth to make a significant difference to the asset pool.

If you’re uncertain about how your sole trader assets are categorised or need expert guidance in protecting your business, consider booking a consultation with a MovementLegal team member. We can help you manage a fair division of your asset pool – efficiently and with confidence.

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