California Court Upholds Valuation of Marital Property in Divorce

One of the most significant financial aspects of divorce is the court’s ultimate division of community property. In California, courts will seek to divide equally the couple’s marital assets and debts — items that were accumulated during the marriage. In many cases, the “date of valuation” can play a huge part in the value of the assets that each spouse receives at the conclusion of the proceedings. There are multiple ways to accomplish this task, and the appropriate method and procedure will depend on the unique circumstances of any one case. If you are considering a divorce, it is imperative that you take into account your future financial interests. An experienced family law attorney from the San Diego area would be able to assess your case and prepare the best strategy under the circumstances.

Section 2552 of the California Family Code addresses the valuation of marital property in divorce. Specifically, the statute provides: “For the purpose of division of the community estate upon dissolution of marriage or legal separation of the parties, except as provided in subdivision (b), the court shall value the assets and liabilities as near as practicable to the time of trial.” Parties in divorce cases have argued over what this language means for their assets. For instance, in a recent case, a couple had been married for 27 years when they decided to divorce. Over their lengthy marriage, the spouses purchased and built up several grocery stores, two of which were considered marital assets at the time of the couple’s separation. One of the issues in the case concerned the trial court’s valuation of the grocery stores for purposes of dividing the assets between the parties.

After a trial, in April 2012, the court awarded the parties an equal value of certain identified assets, including the grocery stores, as well as an equalizing payment to the wife. In September 2012, the wife moved to “reopen the evidence,” seeking to offer updated financial statements relating to an alleged increase in value of the grocery stores. She argued, among other things, that the stores increased in value by $400,000 between the end of 2010 and June 2012. The court denied the motion, concluding that it was “not well founded.” The wife appealed, arguing that the court improperly used an appraisal of the company that “held” the grocery stores, dating back to late 2010, without also considering the changed financial circumstances of the company between then and the time of entry of judgment.

After reviewing the lower court’s valuation of the grocery stores, the court of appeals affirmed the decision. Here, the court pointed out that the lower court found the husband’s valuation expert to be more credible, and the lower court chose a valuation amount between the husband’s and the wife’s experts’ amounts. The court of appeals also noted that under California case law, a trial court has the discretion to rely on certain expert testimony, notwithstanding the existence of conflicting evidence. There are many other complicated aspects to this decision. But the crux of this part of the opinion is that the court upheld the lower court’s valuation of a marital asset.

Before initiating any divorce or separation proceeding, spouses are encouraged to consult with their own family law attorney in order to adequately protect their respective financial rights. Roy M. Doppelt has been representing parties involved in family law disputes for more than 20 years. His office serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt and Forney, APLC through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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