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Kane County Divorce Lawyer: Are Retained Earnings Marital Property?

A few years ago, I tried a lengthy case in Will County, Illinois that ended up on appeal on a few key issues. One of these issues is that at trial, I put in evidence and argued that the small company owned by the parties should have its retained earnings considered as marital property, insofar as the practice of this husband and wife company had been to distribute the retained earnings out to themselves as dividend income. While the trial judge held that they were part of the valuation of the marital business, the appellate court agreed with my approach, and ordered that the retained earnings be considered a cash asset of the marriage. This ruling was a significant financial win for my client, and my case ended up clarifying an area of Illinois law and was cited nationally on the following principle: retained earnings in a closely held corporation can be found to be a marital asset (outside of the value of the company itself) subject to distribution in the divorce.


Retained earnings in a small corporation refer to the portion of the company’s net income that is not distributed to shareholders as dividends but rather kept within the company for reinvestment in its operations or for other purposes. Essentially, it’s the cumulative amount of profits that the company has retained since its inception, minus any dividends paid out to shareholders. Retained earnings are an important asset class in an Illinois divorce with a closely held company.

Retained earnings can be distributed to the shareholder(s) as a 1099 dividend, and many owners of small companies use retained earnings for this purpose. These dollars can also serve as a source of funding for various activities such as business expansion, research and development, debt reduction, or building up cash reserves. They are an important indicator of a company’s financial health and its ability to reinvest in itself for future growth.

In summary, retained earnings represent the accumulated profits that a small corporation has kept within the business, to be used for dividends to the owners  or for benefitting the company.


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