How Is the Goodwill of a Business Valued in a California Divorce or Legal Separation?

How Is the Goodwill of a Business Valued in a California Divorce or Legal Separation?

The short answer to this question is that the goodwill of a business may be valued in any way the appraiser chooses. The longer answer is that the business appraiser may use any method that does not include impermissible values and that does include values that can be legitimately deduced from past results.

The goodwill value of a business is something that does not show up on the balance sheet. It is often an intangible aspect of the business that ultimately affects the bottom line. California Business & Professional Code defines goodwill in this way: “The ‘good will’ of a business is the expectation of continued public patronage”. It has also been described as a value that is different than capital stock or property of the business.

There are many different types of business that are valued in divorce cases, and, consequently, there are many different aspects to be considered by business appraisers when it comes to a goodwill value. Among the considerations are the following:

  • A regular and devoted customer base;
  • Reputation;
  • The length of time in business;
  • The likelihood that the business will continue in the future as in the past; and
  • The age of the spouse operating the business.

One of the prevalent methods of valuing goodwill is the Excess Earnings Method, which compares the business owner spouse to an employee of comparable experience in the same field. The method then factors in financial details from the performance of the business over a period of time to arrive at a value. The complexity of the method prevents discussion in this forum, but the salient point is that the method uses concrete financial information to arrive at a goodwill valuation.

Another method that has passed judicial muster is the Foster Method, which also uses a comparable salary coupled with financial data of the business. The common thread of these two methods that makes them acceptable to courts is that they are rooted in past performance of the business, and also take into account the likelihood of continued similar results.

The valuation of business goodwill also follows other basic tenets of divorce law. For example, business performance after the parties’ separation may not be used. Similarly, business profitability occurring prior to the marriage of the parties may not be included.

The valuation of a business, that is subject to community property distribution in a divorce, particularly the goodwill component, is a very complicated matter. Its complexity naturally gives rise to intense