Cowshed Cinderella will go to the ball

Succession conversations can be the most difficult for farming families. However, the case dubbed the ‘Cowshed Cinderella’ is a salutary warning to all families, and farming families in particular, that intentions for the business on retirement or the death of a parent must be made clear to all involved in the decision or the fallout from it.

In the Cowshed Cinderella case a girl was led to believe that in return for making the biggest contribution to the practical running of the family farm she would receive a share of the business. In return for that commitment she gave up the social life her siblings enjoyed to do most of the work on the farm, estimated in court to be worth around £3.8 million. However, somewhere along the way a family disagreement emerged, reportedly over her choice of men friends and the possibility of children coming onto the scene. Whatever the reasons, relationships within the family broke down completely, culminating in the parents not only denying her a share of the business, but seeking to evict her from the house she had on the farm. This was despite her two sisters having pursued careers off the farm while she effectively ran the business.

The judge underlined that this was a no win situation for all involved, and awarded the Cowshed Cinderella, Eirian Davies, now 45, around £1.3m to set up in business in her own right on another farm or pursue a different career. Her mother has suggested they are likely to appeal this decision, adding to the cost of the exercise and all but ensuring that there can never be a family reconciliation.

The family farm succession discussion is always difficult. For parents it’s a recognition that they won’t be around for ever, and sons and daughters need to recognise the contribution parents have made to grow the business. In some cases this debate is being accelerated by the rules surrounding the premium CAP payment for young farmers, who must be head of the holding to qualify.

It is better to have an open negotiation around the rights of parents, the child that wants to stay involved with the business and any compensation for other children who do not want to farm. If there are concerns about what will happen if the parents run out of money, have to move out of the dwelling house or if a son or daughter has a relationship that founders, these issues are best discussed. If they are not, they are not going away – they are instead being buried until they surface and have to be tackled.

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