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Medical/Dental Practices: Worth Anything in Divorce?

5th September 2009
Written By: Brian C. Vertz - Pittsburgh Divorce Lawyer - BVSource.com

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In divorce litigation where one of the spouses owns a professional practice, such as a medical practice, dental practice, law firm or accounting firm, the lawyers and their experts have to determine whether the business has value. Their determination depends upon whether the professional practice is believed to have enterprise goodwill.

Briefly, enterprise goodwill is the price that a buyer would pay for a professional practice over and above the value of its hard assets like equipment and supplies. In theoretical terms, enterprise goodwill is the reputation of the business that is not closely associated with a particular owner or professional. The opposite of enterprise goodwill is personal goodwill, which is the reputation and skill of the professional. Enterprise goodwill has value because it is transferrable but personal goodwill is not. Someone might be willing to pay for a name like Aspen Dental Systems, but what about Jane Doe, PC?

Increasingly, there is a market for professional practices that are not part of a regional or national chain. Dental practices, even those with a single location and single dentist, are bought and sold frequently. The same is true for specialty medical practics. Yet, primary care medical practices and legal practices are rarely bought or sold. So, how does a lawyer decide whether a professional practice should be evaluated by a business valuation specialist? Here are three signs that a professional practice might have value:

1. Actual transactions. If a professional or his/her partners have bought or sold their practices, it is more likely that there is transferrable enterprise goodwill. However, you must distinguish market transactions from succession planning. If the only transactions are between retiring partners and advancing associates, then there may not be much enterprise goodwill.

2.  Subordinates and equipment.  One reason why dental practices are increasingly transferrable is that dental procedures are performed by hygenists and associate dentists. If the owner of the practice is earning profit from other professionals and paraprofessionals, then a buyer might be willing to pay something to step into those shoes.

3.  Excess compensation. If a professional is earning substantially more than industry standards, then the professional’s practice might have enterprise goodwill. No buyer would pay to assume an existing practice if he or she could start a new practice for free – except if the existing practice were more profitable than a new practice would be. This criteria is based on the principle of substitution.

From BVSource.com