DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE - INTRODUCTION
Of all the appraisal assignments, dissolution of marriage is perhaps the most stressful for appraisers since there often exists animosity between couples. To know what is the required methodology for a particular dissolution of marriage assignment lessens the amount of stress an appraiser will endure. Dissolution of marriage requirements vary drastically throughout the United States and each assignment is jurisdiction specific. Therefore, no common thread of methodology theory can suffice for all jurisdictions and only detailed information about the appraisal requirements will do. This session will introduce the protocol, history and states’ requirements for the ubiquitous dissolution of marriage valuation assignment.
Divorce, or dissolution1 of marriage, is a way of life for most Americans and many have experienced at least one divorce. Children are being raised with a step parent2 or being passed back and forth between natural parents. As dismal as this is – it is a business opportunity for appraisers. As an appraiser your expertise is required. If you plan or learn the valuation theory necessary for dissolution of marriage cases, then you will need to first master a brief history of the laws.
"I've never been married, but I tell people I'm divorced so they won't think something is wrong with me."
Divorce in America offers the appraiser vast job opportunities. Dissolution of marriage is a lucrative arena in which to practice but not one for the faint of heart. The problem is that divorces are nasty and the appraiser must be prepared for the husband and wife to fight with a vengeance. What had been a union based on love has now become a separation based on hatred and mistrust. The first step as an appraiser is to learn the protocol of divorce. This will lessen the appraiser’s odds of becoming the target of one of the parties.
But First …
Avoid the term “divorce.” Instead use the legal parlance “dissolution of marriage.” This not only sounds better but adds to your professionalism. Some state laws - especially those with community property laws3 - view marriage akin to a business relationship with each spouse being a full partner in the relationship. Businesses are dissolved and so are marriages. I am not saying that the term “divorce” is outdated or never should be used … I am merely saying that a slight change in vocabulary may enhance your image.
“You never really know a man until you have divorced him.”
Zsa Zsa Gabor
In litigation, there exists a plaintiff and a defendant. However, in a marriage that is being dissolved, usually both the spouses want the same result, a divorce. Referring to either spouse as a defendant or plaintiff is to be avoided. Instead, refer to them as “parties to the action.” If you need to refer to only one party, use their name. In other words, do not refer to Mr. Jones as the defendant but as “Mr. Jones.” This raises the question as to the use of the “Ms.” when referring to the woman. One merely needs to look at the papers filed to see what the attorney of record has used. If it states, “Mrs. Jones,” then use that. On the other hand, if it uses “Ms. Jones,” then use that in your valuation report.
Another reason to refer to the couple as “parties to the action,” is to avoid the appearance of biasness. Your task as an appraiser is to assign estimates of value to marital property as a basis for the court or couple to use in dividing the property. It should never matter to you what the other issues are in the case. Likewise, you should never allow yourself to inflate or deflate a value merely to help one spouse that you feel is more right than the other one. Value is a market derived estimate of worth and is never affected by the sordid circumstances in a divorce.
The protocol for naming the spouses is not a new notion. Just to make you feel the name change is not so bad, here is a humorous short story demonstrating that names are not always easy to tag onto individuals:
A man petitioned the court for a divorce. He told the judge:
"I married a widow with a grown daughter. My father fell in love with my stepdaughter and married her, thus becoming my son-in-law, and my stepdaughter is my mother because she is my father's wife. My wife gave birth to a son, who is, of course, my father's brother-in-law and also my uncle for he is the brother of my stepmother. My father's wife became the mother of a son, who is, of course, my brother, and also my grandchild for he is the son of my daughter. Accordingly, my wife is my grandmother because she is my father's mother, I am my wife's husband and grandchild at the same time and, as the husband of a person's grandmother is his grandfather, I am my own grandfather!"4