Setting Boundaries on Who Counts as Family

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Enterprising families sometimes ask BFF about who should be counted as "family" in their family business. What about in-laws? Unmarried partners? Ex-partners who have custody of children?  

According to Professor Ivan Lansberg, there is no single answer. It depends on the family’s culture, personal experience of divorce, the number of family members, and the complexity of branches.  

But broadly there are only three ways that in-laws and partners can be treated: give them full citizenship rights, a green card, or a tourist visa. 

Full citizen  the in-laws receive a similar status to sons or daughters. It would be unthinkable to hold family meetings without them. The family is very open about sharing all the information about their business. 

Green card – the in-laws have an in-between position. For each family meeting, there is a conversation about whether to invite the in-laws and how much they are permitted to contribute.  

Tourist visa – the in-laws are clearly not "family" in terms of the family business. There is no way that they would participate in business-related meetings though they still receive invitations to whole-family social gatherings.    

For example: 

When Ali moved in with Jorge, who belongs to an enterprising family, she started being invited to big family gatherings (tourist visa). In due course, she married Jorge and they had two children. She was then invited along to family strategy meetings though she didn’t have a vote (green card). Things were going well, the family liked her, and there were hints that she might be appointed to a family board (full citizen?). But then she and Jorge split up. Now her contact is limited to the big family gatherings that she attends with her children (tourist visa). The boundaries of "family" don’t have to be super rigid but they do need to be robust. So who counts as family in your family business? 

BFF subscribers can find out more by logging in and watching our video Participation of In-laws in Family Meetings and Decision Processes. 

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