Court Decision Highlights the Correct — and Incorrect — Ways to Establish the Value of Marital Assets

With Christmas having recently come and gone, many people likely received a new addition to an existing collection of possessions. For some, it may have been a new piece of jewelry; for others, perhaps a new power tool. When these collections of become an issue in a divorce, there is a clear right way, and wrong way, to go about seeking to include them in the equitable distribution of assets. The recent decision in a First District case highlights one of the wrong ways to establish value, which resulting in the 1st District Court of Appeal rejecting a wife’s efforts to include her husband’s tools in the couple equitable distribution.

The case went before the court of appeal as a result of a dispute over the value of the husband’s tools. In the trial court dissolution hearing, the husband testified that the tools were worth $500. The wife, in her financial affidavit, stated the tools’ value at $20,000. In crafting its equitable distribution, the trial court awarded the tools to the husband, and accepted the wife’s $20,000 valuation. Because the trial court accepted this larger valuation for the husband’s tools, it lessened the amount the husband received in the remainder of his equitable distribution.

The husband appealed, and the court of appeal sided with him. The problem for the wife was a lack of proof to buttress her $20,000 claim. During the dissolution hearing, the wife admitted that her assessment was a blanket statement without specific evidence to back it up. The court explained that some amount of tangible proof is necessary to back up valuations such as the wife’s. The court noted that its decision mirrored the 2d DCA’s ruling in a 2000 case, Lassett v. Lassett, where the court rejected a husband’s $10,000 valuation of his wife’s jewelry collection because the only proof supporting the claim was the husband’s unsubstantiated testimony.

The court contrasted its ruling with two other cases, in the process offering helpful insight into how to go about establishing value. In 2012, the 1st DCA upheld a $10,000 valuation of a couple’s jewelry, furniture and home furnishings collection because, in that case, the wife gave specific testimony about each piece and its worth. A 1998 decision by the 5th DCA accepted a $10,000 valuation of a couple’s furniture. In that case, the wife introduced photographs of each piece of furniture, which the court decided provided an adequate basis for the assessment.

The “takeaway” from this case is that, to support a valuation claim, a spouse need not retain an expert on jewelry or furniture or tools, but she must do more than just provide a conclusory claim on a financial affidavit if the court is to accept it.

If you and your spouse cannot reach a mutual agreement as to property division, it becomes the job of the court to create an equitable split of your assets. To ensure that a proposed property settlement agreement is fair, or to obtain a diligent advocate for you in litigation to determine an equitable distribution, consult the South Florida family law attorneys of Sandy T. Fox, P.A. They have years of experience and in-depth knowledge from helping Fort Lauderdale and Miami-Dade individuals obtain their fair share of their marital assets. Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Wife’s Work Improving Husband’s Office Building Converts Property to a Marital Asset, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 5, 2013
401(k) Loan Used During Marriage Must Be Equitably Divided in Property Distribution, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Oct. 11, 2013