Resolving Company Disputes

All new business ventures start with optimism and an expectation of success. And after initial stresses, good business ideas are generally rewarded. But in the life cycle of any business, no matter how successful, there are ups and downs. Even in good times, the owners can disagree with each other on new directions for the business, where to invest, or the extent to which profits should be taken out or reinvested in the business.

Company disputes often result in prolific implications that can be damaging for both the business and its employees. It is in a business’ interest to resolve disputes as quickly and seamlessly as possible. This may or may not involve litigation, however it is important to secure legal advice as soon as a dispute arises to ensure you choose the most beneficial and timely route of company dispute resolution.

Over the many years that our company dispute lawyers have been advising business owners, we have observed just how common it is that there are disagreements over the management, ownership or control of a company between directors.

If you are looking for company dispute lawyers in Sydney, or for further information in relation to any company dispute needs, please do not hesitate to contact any member of our Disputes Team.

  • Methods of Company Director Dispute Resolution

    • Generally speaking, there are four different modes of resolutions for company disputes. These include:

      1. Resigning and selling/ buying out. Resigning and selling may only be considered an option if it is unlikely that your business will grow any further. Meanwhile, securing a valuation and buying out may be possible if your co-owners are interested in selling their portion of the business.  
      2. Negotiation. Arranging a meeting with the people you are currently in dispute with to explain your position and objectives is an important step in clearing any tension and restoring your working relationship. A third party mediator may also be present to ensure everyone present reaches an unbiased understanding.
      3. Going into voluntary administration. Larger companies may have the opportunity to go into voluntary administration if there are unresolvable disputes between the director/s and shareholders.
      4. Court involvement. This is an expensive mode of dispute resolution that is generally a last resort, but is reasonably common in instances where a director has breached an agreement or law. Courts can take a variety of actions to resolve the breach and resolve the dispute.
  • Common company director disputes & concerns

    • A director is concerned about having to continually put money into the company;
    • Concerns about a partner issuing extra shares to him/herself;
    • Reservations about salary or bonuses of directors;
    • A director has done a deal with a related company in which he or she has an interest
    • A director has set up another company which is competing with the first company.
    • Importantly, many of these disputes could be avoided if a clear and effective Shareholder’s Agreement was put in place from the outset. A shareholder’s agreement provides all the parties a level of protection and peace of mind when starting their company.
  • What can a Shareholder’s Agreement contain?

    • Share, split and type of shares
    • Shareholder’s voting rights
    • Shareholder’s liability if the company is in debt
    • How new shares are allocated
    • The valuation of shares
    • The process for transferring or selling shares
    • The appointment and role of directors of the company
    • Dispute Resolution
  • Resolving company disputes without a shareholder’s agreement

    People often find themselves involved in a company dispute without the benefit of a Shareholder’s Agreement. These disputes can result in a complete breakdown of the relationship between the parties which often seriously impacts the commercial operations of the business of the company.
    If you are in this difficult situation, it is important to seek legal advice because there are still plenty of options available to you to resolve the dispute. Some of your options are to:

    • Offer to buy out a party or to buy a controlling stake in the company;
    • Reach an agreement after an informal or formal mediation;
    • Appoint an auditor or obtain the accounts of the company;
    • Commence proceedings in respect of a breach of a director’s duty;
    • Appoint a liquidator or administrator
    • Commence proceedings to have the company wound up under s 461 of the Corporations Act (“the Act”). This is seen as a drastic option so the court must usually be satisfied that the relationship between the parties has completely broken down.
    • Make an application under s 232 of the Act for a range of remedies if the conduct of a company’s affairs has been oppressive. Here the Court must be satisfied that the conduct of the company’s affairs, an act or resolution (whether actual or proposed) is either contrary to the interests of the members as a whole or oppressive to, unfairly prejudicial or discriminatory against a member. If so, the Court has a wide range of powers to grant relief such as winding up the company, modifying or repealing the company’s constitution, regulating future conduct of the company or for the purchase of shares of any shareholder by other shareholders.
  • Resolving company disputes through negotiation

    When resolving disputes, it is recommended that you avoid the need for litigation to save time and costs. Alternate methods for dispute resolution outside of litigation include:

    Negotiations: Negotiation should always be the first step in dispute resolution. It is the simplest, quickest and most cost-effective form of dispute resolution. Negotiation is especially preferable for those looking to maintain or improve the business relationship with the other party, and cases where both parties have similar bargaining power and level of influence.

    Arbitration through Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR): Arbitration also offers a more flexible, private method of dispute resolution. Arbitration involves the hiring of a neutral third party to listen to the arguments made by the conflicting parties before using this information to come to an unbiased decision that benefits both parties. Hiring a qualified arbitrator incorporates a level of expertise and experience in your dispute resolution procedures.

    Our Disputes Team is ready to lend assistance should you find yourself faced with any such issues. We have a history of working with companies in internal disputes to find resolutions that enable everyone to move on. Where necessary, we have also successfully run court proceedings to break the deadlock between rival directors. Call us on (02) 9411 4466 or email, to discuss your options.


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