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Breaking up is hard to do—especially for practice partners

You can’t help but notice the formal photograph in the waiting room of the Casanova & Imhoff dental practice. It shows Maite Casanova and Gregory Imhoff standing close together, almost cheek-to-cheek, looking so very happy.

It’s a side of the married couple that patients are unlikely to see these days. In fact, patients are unlikely to see Casanova and Imhoff anywhere near each other.

Marital discord has wrecked the 21-year-old partnership. Court records show the couple split the work week -- he works three days, she works two – apparently so they won’t have to deal directly with each other.

Casanova filed for divorce last July, but it’s dragging on because of custody issues – children and business. While it’s pending, Imhoff has filed suit in Hillsborough County Circuit Court alleging that Casanova is sabotaging their practice.

It’s a situation that Owen Dahl, an independent consultant with Medical Group Management Association, has seen many times before.

“What this couple is going through is two divorces,” said Dahl. “They’re divorcing in their personal relationship and they’re divorcing in their business relationship. … To lose both is especially difficult.”

These days, husband-and-wife teams are no longer common among physicians, simply because practices with only two doctors are rare, Dahl said. But it’s not an unusual arrangement for dentists.

In general, Dahl said, he’d caution against married couples sharing a practice precisely because it can end up like Casanova & Imhoff.  (Dahl was not familiar with the case before  Health News Florida contacted him.)

Divorce is bad enough for the couple, he said, but when it strikes a dental practice it affects hundreds of people. “It’s not fair to the staff,” he said, “and it’s not fair to the patients.”

Indeed, according to allegations in Imhoff’s suit, the couple’s personal problems have affected both.

He claims that his wife ordered $300,000 worth of unnecessary equipment without his knowledge, that the workplace was so stressful some valued employees quit, hid patient charts and changed the color coding on some of his patients to make them hers.

Casanova has denied each of Imhoff’s charges and has countersued, making quite similar accusations against him.

Casanova and Imhoff did not respond to requests for interviews, and neither did Imhoff’s attorney.  Casanova’s attorney, Jessica Felix of Older, Lundy & Weisman¸ said the proceedings are temporarily on hold and that she did not know whether the couple would continue to practice together.

The charges and countercharges might appear extreme, but they don’t surprise MGMA’s Dahl, who said, “I’ve heard it all before.”

When a couple is in practice together, they can’t take a family vacation without closing up shop.

Other partnerships involving family members – siblings working together, or a parent working with a son or daughter – aren’t quite as treacherous, Dahl said. The business partners aren’t usually living together, and they don’t usually own homes and cars together.

In fact, a parent working with a son or daughter can work out well, Dahl said. “Eventually he or she will take over the business.”

He says it’s important for family members in practice together to observe this rule:   “You don’t talk about the family at work, and you don’t talk about work when you’re around the family.”

When a marriage-and-practice partnership deteriorates to the extent of Imhoff & Casanova, he said, “my recommendation would be for this couple to separate as cleanly and as quickly as possible.”