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Family Business: A New Way to Get Even with the Folks

Family Business: A New Way to Get Even with the Folks

19.3.2013 17:47
Autor: Alica Stegmannová, KSB

“Závod” is the chosen term set to replace “podnik” (a business or enterprise), mainly because the meaning of “podnik” tends to differ from law to law. Although EU law seeks to promote the use of “podnik” in relation to a person, the term too often refers to business premises. Pursuant to the New Civil Code, a “závod” will be a collective term, with “rodinný závod” being a special type of business that has its own unique characteristics. 

Family Business – Let’s Work Together

The New Civil Code’s provisions on family businesses were inspired by the Italian Civil Code and are designed to make family members’ living standards comparable. Any business in which a husband and wife (or at least one of them) work together with their first to third degree relatives or first to second degree “in-laws” and which is owned by any of them will be a family business. A person can therefore marry into a family business. The rules are designed to cover situations where the conditions for a family business are satisfied even though no actual contractual relationship is established. The law’s explanatory memorandum even states that the primary carer in a household (listen up, ladies) is regarded as working for the family business on a permanent basis. This endorses the principle that taking care of a family is as important as providing for a family.

Pursuant to EU case law, items forming part of the family business are those things which the owner intends to include. No particular form is required; the fact that the items are actually used will suffice. In other words, facts will replace the records. The legislation has no explicit list of items forming a part of a family business. Intangibles, such as clientele, are certainly included.

Equal Standards of Living

Previously, disputes over payment issues could be resolved only via the doctrine of unjust enrichment, which is impractical in this case because family relationships are usually long-term and the rights may easily become statute barred. The New Civil Code endeavours to provide the participants in a family business with more rights.

The New Civil Code provides family members with a number of statutory rights, such as the right to compensation in accordance with the quantity and type of work performed. Such compensation can take the form of a share in the family business’s profits, acquired items and accruals. Since a family business is designed to serve the entire family, all family members have the right to decide on fundamental issues concerning the business.

It is important to bear in mind that all family members involved in the family business will have such rights even if the family business is owned by just one of them. Decisions on how to allocate profits and other key decisions will require a majority of votes of all family members who are involved in the business (minors and persons of unsound mind must be represented). If a family member ceases to be involved in the family business (if he or she quits the business), he or she will have the right to a settlement. The New Civil Code acknowledges that family businesses may find it difficult to pay out a lump sum and thus allows for splitting the settlement into instalments.

The New Civil Code does not, however, seek to interfere with well-established and smooth-running family businesses. Family businesses may continue to follow their standard practices as long as they are not in conflict with the New Civil Code.

Third parties should bear in mind that all family members involved in a family business have a pre-emption right to purchase the business or any part of it (defined by the nature and manner of use). When seeking to buy a particular property, the purchaser will have to determine whether the property happens to serve the operations of the family business. If it does, the purchaser will have to find out who is involved, whether the other family members agree to selling the property, and whether their pre-emption rights to purchase the property themselves have been duly settled.

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