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The Importance of Personal Property Valuation in a Divorce


The Newport Beach and Orange County divorce lawyers at Sullivan Law & Associates and most divorce litigants comprehend the basic concept of Community Property in California. According to California Family Code §760 et seq,all property, real or personal, acquired during the marriage, except by gift, inheritance, or bequest, is community property (emphasis added).

Everything But The Kitchen Sink: The Importance of Personal Asset Valuation

In the fifty years I have been litigating and settling dissolution cases, I have observed that most of a couple’s time and energy is consumed in the characterization, valuation, and division of high-value, complex assets. Dividing real property, closely-held businesses, and various forms of deferred compensation is a complicated task. Additionally, because these types of assets typically comprise the most significant components of a couple’s marital estate in a high asset divorce, hiring a professional to manage the division of these expenditures is wholly appropriate or even mandatory.

What are Personal Marital Assets?

Did you know that every marital estate also contains personal property that must be divided? Dealing with such assets is many times just an afterthought. The lawyers explain to their clients that given the difficulty in securing trial dates with the court, and the real or imagined perception that the court is reluctant to deal with such issues, it will be rather challenging to get their case heard. When couples are discouraged from going to court to argue over furniture, furnishings, collectibles, antiques, and artwork, there is potential to leave considerable assets on the table. While the observations about court date difficulties and the potential for extended proceedings may be valid, failure to appropriately assess the characterization, valuation, and division of items of personal property may constitute professional malpractice. It’s true; most used furniture has a relatively low market value. But it’s important to note that assets like antiques, collectibles, vintage autos, and similar types of personal property may be significantly more valuable due to their uniqueness. I once represented a gentleman who owned a classic Martin saxophone. Upon appropriate investigation, we determined that the instrument’s market value was approximately $50,000. If our legal team had failed to disclose this asset’s characterization and valuation accurately, it could have been disastrous for both parties.

Properly Treating Personal Marital Assets in a Dissolution

Assets of obvious value, like classic cars, antiques, and artwork, are seldom ignored, but counsel shouldn’t ignore the appropriate disposition of any assets. Ignoring any portion of marital assets could be done so at the attorney’s peril and the client’s detriment. In many cases, counsel implements a “divide in-kind” strategy. Each party lists what they desire during this process, ignoring disparate valuations. While this may be the more convenient method, the appropriate procedure is to submit the determination of characterization, valuation, and division of such assets to an experienced Special Master pursuant to CCP §§ 638 or 639. A Special Master can expend the time necessary to listen to the parties’ contentions, receive oral and documentary evidence, and receive informal and formal expert opinions to assist in making appropriate findings.

For Thorough & Accurate Divorce Solutions, Contact Sullivan Law & Associates

Consult Sullivan Law & Associates to retain David E. Wald as Special Master. Mr. Wald has practiced family law for more than 48 years, and he has also been appointed by the Superior Court to conduct over 50 Special Master assignments involving complex family issues. Contact our office at (949) 590-8100 to schedule a consultation today.