One of the most contentious issues in divorces involving wealthy couples is the valuation of joint property. Even in a community property state like ours, where joint assets are divided equally, many assets may require a valuation to ensure the equal division required by law. In the past, common practice dictated that each spouse hire an appraiser to provide expert testimony on the value of real property, business interests and uniquely valuable assets, such as works of art. A new trend is now emerging: the use of joint appraisers.
The concept is simple and the potential advantages are many. The divorcing spouses agree to hire one appraiser to value a particular asset such as a wholly owned small business. The spouses agree on which appraiser to hire, and they also agree to split the appraiser’s fees and expenses. The spouses then exchange information and provide the same information to the appraiser. The appraiser then presents an opinion on value that both spouses have agreed to accept.
The most obvious advantage of using a joint appraiser is cost. Each spouse pays one-half of the appraiser’s fee (unless they reach a different agreement on splitting the fee), thereby reducing their cost by one-half. The appraiser’s opinion is more likely to be objective because the parties have shared relevant information. A joint valuation also saves time because the appraiser will need to visit the facility or property fewer times than two appraisers doing the same valuation. Settlement becomes more likely because the appraiser has all relevant information and can advise both parties on potential compromises.
Using a joint appraiser requires the parties to be honest and unemotional. If the parties can act accordingly, the result is likely to be a fair appraisal that both parties and the court can rely upon. Anyone facing a divorce that will require the division of valuable assets may wish to explore the use of a joint appraiser with a knowledgeable divorce attorney.