Divorce can be hell, but it can be even more hellish if the husband and wife work together.
A perfect example of this is the drama publicly unfolding between the estranged couple that ran the Los Angeles Dodgers together, team owner Frank McCourt and his wife and former team CEO Jamie McCourt.
The husband fired the wife last month. She went to court to get her job back but lost her bid to be reinstated Thursday during a hearing in the couple's messy divorce proceedings.
It’s McCourt vs. McCourt, and it’s also a cautionary tale for all couples considering sharing a bed and a workplace.
“You’re taking career, finances and your key relationship and adding additional stress,” says Greg McCann, who teaches family business at Stetson University. “Over half of marriages end in divorce; why would you add this stress to it. Most couples probably shouldn’t do it.”
You don’t have to tell Karey Bohmer, a project manager for US Airways in Phoenix, how difficult it can be.
Bohmer met her husband Daniel, an airplane mechanic, on the job. Although they now work in different departments, they have worked together and for each other for the past 15 years.
“We’ve had supervisors try to pit us against each other, accused us of favoritism, and had lots of ugly rumors spread around about us,” she explained. “We’ve also been divorced and remarried, and a big part of our divorce was because of work.”
While they've learned how to work together, Karey Bohmer says day-to-day issues make it tough on both of them.
“Some days we hate each other. We’re carpooling together, living together,” she says. “When I get home, I want to leave work at work. He wants to talk about work, but there are a lot of people I get along with that he doesn’t get along with.”
There’s also the issue of having too many eggs in one basket. Layoffs have plagued the aviation industry, including at US Airways. “It’s constantly in the back of your mind,” she says. “If layoffs hit, we could both be unemployed.”
Firing your spouse
Andrea Sittig-Rolf, who runs a sales training company called Sittig Inc. in Redmond, Wash., ending up pink-slipping her husband Brian after a year of him working for her. “I decided I’d rather keep him as a husband than as an employee, so I had to fire him,” she says.
She asked her husband to join her team at Sittig after he was laid off from a sales job at Waste Management in 2005. But soon their divergent personalities caused friction.
“Brian is the kind of person that wants a plan in place. I’m the kind of person that leaps and waits for the net to appear,” she says. She started bossing her husband around and became “mean and controlling.”
It was starting to impact the couple’s relationship, so she made the tough decision to let her hubby go. “I said, ‘I can’t do this. I don’t like what it’s doing to our relationship.’ ”
But it’s not all doom and gloom for life partners who also want to be work partners.
Making it work
Max Dobens works for his wife, Jacky Teplitzky, who runs one of Prudential Douglass Elliman’s top real estate businesses in New York City.
Dobens, who had worked in the hotel industry and for a dotcom but ended up getting laid off from both jobs, was asked by his wife to join her real estate team. He accepted after passing the real estate exam in 2001.
He had heard dire warnings about what might happen if he worked with his wife, but he was so sick of corporate politics that he took a chance — and is happy he did.
“I want to be a family, work together and be with my wife,” he says.
He admitted there were drawbacks, such as “a very fuzzy line between what’s personal and what’s business. It’s hard to go out to dinner and not talk about what’s going on in the office.”
And after the bottom dropped out of the New York real estate market last year, he wondered if he made the right decision.
What helps them make it work is that they’re focused on different things while on the job. “I’m off working with my own clients, doing a lot of my own thing,” he says. “If we were both chefs working in the same kitchen, there would have been a stabbing years ago.”
Dividing up responsibilities
Indeed, experts say it’s a good idea to separate responsibilities because one of the major issues husband-and-wife co-workers deal with is the power struggle, especially if one is the boss of another.
Maureen Borzacchiello, owner of Creative Display Solutions Inc. in Garden City, N.Y., discovered that in the first few months after she asked her husband to join her at her company in 2005. “Suddenly I had someone with an opinion that was happy to give me his opinion,” she says. “In the back of my mind I was thinking, ‘This is my company, mister.’ ”
The couple sat down one night and had an honest discussion, dividing up roles and responsibilities instead of trying to do everything together. “We drew a line in the sand,” she says.
They also promised never to fight in front of employees about work matters, and they make sure to give each other space on those days they need it.
Spouses never know if they’re cut out to work together until they actually try it, says Stephanie Losee, co-author of “Office Mate: Your Employee Handbook for Romance on the Job.” But a failed attempt, especially in this economy, can be costly to everyone concerned.
The worst-case scenario is when you thought there was a certain level of compatibility and friendship at the core of your marriage, and “one goes to work for the other with the thinking that you’re extending that relationship, and it backfires.”