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10 ways families can prevent divorce
By Mark Caygeon Junkin
When you marry a farmer, you marry the farm and the in-laws, too. Brides who have dreamed of marrying a farmer since childhood usually have romantic notions about being a good farm wife and an amazing daughter-in-law. The honeymoon with the in-laws usually lasts about two years. Then sweetness sours quickly.
Keeping marriages together is tough, without the added stress of the farm and working closely with in-laws. Here are a few common-sense policies for multi-household farm families.
Twice a year, host a family meeting in a quiet restaurant in the mid-afternoon, about 30 miles from your hometown. Each person should be ready to discuss three problems, and how they affect his or her personal life. If everyone follows through with resolved improvements, the farm will become more profitable, and working and living environments will be improved.
2. Resolve conflicts.
Every farm should have a written and signed policy outlining what will happen if family members aren't able to work out differences on their own. Designate a mediator. Any family member should be able to contact the mediator, at the farm's expense. Specify that the mediator's recommendations are binding, and that all individuals will comply for the greater good.
3. Establish an exit strategy.
If the son ceases employment with the farm, is he entitled to live in the house as long as he wants? What about the farm truck he drives? How much equity does the son earn within the corporation each year that he works? Get these terms in writing before a problem arises.
4. Consider contributions.
Establish a compensation policy -- pay and shares in the corporation -- for the spouse's contribution to the farm. Include indirect contributions like care of elderly parents. When several siblings' spouses contribute different amounts of labor to the farm, it's critical to get these issues sorted out to prevent jealousy and hurt feelings.
5. Keep house values equal
Work to keep siblings' farmhouses comparable in value. The fairest way is for the farm corporation to have an appraiser inspect the homes every five years. During the next five-year period, the farm budgets a fair amount to each household for improvements.
6. Seek marriage counseling.
Divorce is a leading reason for farm bankruptcies. Every couple who owns equity in the farm (including the parents) should be required to go to marriage counseling quarterly. Addressing problems proactively prevents divorces. If the counselor makes recommendations, everyone on the farm should support these changes.
7. Watch for postpartum depression.
When not properly dealt with, this is a leading cause of divorce in farming. It can happen anytime within a year after birth, often during spring or fall harvest when the husband is extra busy. Family members should cover the couple's responsibilities for a time if necessary.
8. Set a date night and family night.
Grandparents should offer to babysit one night a week so their children and spouses can spend time alone together. Grandparents should also host a potluck dinner and game night weekly. Families that play together stay together.
9. Try to keep Sunday sacred.
There is more to life than just work. Often, farmers who have depression, mental, or family issues tend to be the workaholics who don't take Sundays off. If you're a livestock producer, hiring in help for Sunday evening chores can be the best long-term investment you could ever make.
10. Respect personal space.
Young families need their space, and some will move to town to get away from the beck and call of their parents. When planting or harvest is over, many sons take time off to make up lost time with their families. Don't bother your child on his family day unless it is an emergency.
Major industry challenge
Sociologists predict more than 60% of farm couples in the future will get divorced. Divorce will be the biggest industry challenge over the next 20 years -- greater than the markets and weather put together. Not implementing these preventive policies and losing the farm would truly be a shame.
Mark Caygeon Junkin's niche Farm Succession focuses on improving how Generation Y families work together, not on who gets what. Using cost-effective technology, he consults across North America.
Multi-household farm families need to support each others' marriages.