The Challenges and Rewards of Being Married Business Partners

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raising startup funds, creating a team-even if it’s only a two-member team-dividing roles and responsibilities, and developing a business plan.

“Many, many, people shake hands and that’s the end of it,” says Robert Sullivan, small business adviser and author of The Small Business Start-Up Guide (Information International; $17.95). “The fact that it is husband and wife makes it more #difficult because they may be too close to the situation to think rationally if there is a problem.”

But divorce, separation, and the death of either spouse are real issues, says Sullivan. The partnership agreement should be structured in a manner that makes provisions for those contingencies. Couples should also include what should be done if one spouse wishes to sell his or her stake in the company. “It may be #distasteful to talk about but it has to be concluded,” says Sullivan. To find an incorporation attorney, contact the American Bar Association or visit

The Waynes decided against setting up a formal partnership when they launched their ice cream shop and later when they began investing in real estate and started a dump trucking business. That is not a savvy move, caution experts. If their marriage ends in divorce, the businesses may be in jeopardy. With no legally binding agreement in place, one or both partners could lose the business or may be denied compensation.

But the Waynes have already beat the odds. On average, 47% of first marriages for black women end within 10 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They were high school sweethearts, who married after college and have now been married for 11 years. “We’ve been together since the 8th grade,” says Nate. “Things like business prenuptials are far from our minds.”

Sentimentalism aside, the Waynes carefully separate the checking and savings accounts for each business and do not mix their business and personal accounts. To stay on track, they meet regularly with a business attorney, certified public #accountant, and financial adviser.

When the store opened, Nate was away playing football which meant Tamiko was solely responsible for completing and tracking paperwork, site visits, and other hands-on tasks while juggling housework and caring for the children. Nate managed the contractors via telephone. He also served as a listening ear for the very stressed out Tamiko. “I would call him and agonize,” she says. When the football season was over, Nate returned home with plans to fully participate in the couple’s venture. Like any partner, there were several areas where he believed improvement was needed. First, he reorganized the storage and stocking station in the rear of the ice cream shop, #because he didn’t like Tamiko’s less-structured system. “He’s a neat freak. He wanted everything labeled and looking a certain way,” says Tamiko. “In my opinion, that’s really not important. We bumped heads on that.”

Nate also had to learn how to become a better partner. “When you go into a business with your spouse, one person has to be the chief and one has to be the