By: Stephen J. Plog
In the past, you may have heard stories about people fighting over the pots and pans as part of their divorce case. When stories like this are told, it is usually done to emphasize how acrimonious a divorce case might have been. However, we, as divorce attorneys, have literally seen people fight over pots and pans and have even written about such, some years back, in a prior divorce blog post regarding battles of tangible, marital property. Though attorneys will generally indicate to clients that most courts do not want to get involved with dividing up dishes, furnishings, pictures, appliances, and other household items, in some cases there may actually be items of tangible, personal property of value which need to be factored in to the marital estate and divided. The impetus for deviating from the norm of just physically splitting the household goods between the parties is going to be value. Couches, televisions, and the like are just like cars. They are generally going to be depreciating assets which, though important from a use standpoint, have no significant monetary value. However, items such as artwork, guns, collectibles, jewelry, coins, etc. might.
In instances in which there are significant, distinct property items, or even just one item, which either spouse believes to be of worth, the situation might call for obtaining a formal appraisal, much as one might do with a house or other piece of real estate. The challenge people might face is finding an appraiser or “expert” to do the valuation. Keep in mind that whether for settlement or court trial purposes, a value needs to be determined and just going into court and saying, “I think this necklace is worth ‘$'” would be a risky, if not a silly approach. Additionally, when looking for someone to appraise personal, tangible property, your divorce lawyer is going to be looking for someone with the credentials or experience to be worthy of potentially coming to court to testify as an “expert” within the meaning of Colorado Rules of Evidence. Courts want to know that the person coming in to speak about a specific piece or classification of marital property knows what they are talking about. Of course, valuations of personal property, including reports and testimony, cost money. Thus, the initial determination, which may take some guess work on the part of both attorney and client, is whether, from a cost/benefit analysis standpoint, it’s really worth it to even raise the issue, engage the expert, etc.
Some recent examples we have seen are disagreements over tools and guns. In the case of tools, one spouse in a divorce case believed the other had amassed thousands and thousands of dollars of tools over the course of roughly 20 years of marriage. Reviewing photos taken, there was a significant array of manual, electrical, and automotive tools such that one might be able to fill a well stocked, amateur mechanic’s shop. Looking over the impressive array, as the attorney, I had no doubt that the items were purchased for thousands of dollars, However, I knew full well that they were not going to be worth the same amount today, after time and years of usage. After having advised the client that we were going into uncharted waters, we got online and sought out a tool expert. Finding such an expert was not easy. Though you might be able to find people who deal with bulk collections of property, such as an estate appraiser, good luck finding someone who is so specialized that they can value saws, engine pullers, or a lot of 200 screwdrivers. All searches ultimately led back to one person, who seemed to be the only “certified expert” on the subject in Colorado. Speaking with this individual, it became clear that we were going to have logistical trouble getting a valuation done in a time frame such that we could use it for court. Of more concern was the fact that the cost was going to be roughly $200 per hour, thus a good chunk of change. This might have been money well spent if we had a reasonable indication that the tools were worth $5000, $10,000, or more. Knowing the hours to be spent reviewing, cataloging, and potentially testifying for what could turn out to be just a fishing expedition, we elected to forego hiring this expert and were ultimately able to just agree upon a figure of a few thousand dollars with the other side.
In a more recent incident, the issue of guns and a gun collection arose. Again, over the course of a multi-decade marriage, one spouse had accumulated 20 to 30 firearms. Certainly they were going to be worth something, but what? The volume was enough such that both attorney and client believed it would be worthwhile to get an appraisal done. The first step was to locate a gun appraiser. Oddly, it was difficult to find someone who was a “certified” gun appraiser or even an organization certifying gun appraisers. Ultimately, we determined that most gun shop owners or gun dealers are willing and able to value various firearms and that some even has experience doing formal valuations and coming to court to testify. Though the testifying experience may have been limited, it looks good when trying to get an expert for court. Despite the typical rumblings from the other side about how doing an appraisal of the guns was a waste of time, and even having to file a motion to gain cooperation and access to the guns, we stayed the course. In this case, it was determined that the guns were martial assets worth roughly tens of thousands of dollars. Thus, roughly $1,000 was spent valuing the guns to ferret out a cognizable figure of what might be as high as $30,000. That potential $30,000 translates to a decent some of marital money and makes the $1,000 money well spent.
Each divorce case is different and the marital property to be divided is going to be different, too. Though courts and attorneys will generally discourage you from fighting over the pots and pans, if you believe there are significant personal property items or collections worth mentioning, speak up. Your divorce attorney will assist in helping you make decisions as to whether it’s worth it to pursue the issue and will help seek out the property expert necessary to prove your concerns as to the property.