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How Are Marital Assets Valued In California?

When going through a divorce it is necessary to place a value on items deemed to be community property, which includes all assets and debts acquired by either spouse during the course of the marriage. There are some exceptions, such as property acquired by gift or inheritance, or property acquired prior to the marriage or after the separation.

The value of marital assets can be agreed to, or stipulated, by both parties in an agreement made outside of court.

In situations where you and your spouse are unable to agree on a value of the assets, you may have to testify in court. Personal testimony can be given based on either party's personal knowledge of the item, supplemented by research, e.g., using the Kelly Blue Book to value automobiles.

In divorces involving large community estates, either party may retain a valuation expert who can help value less liquid assets like jewelry, artwork, and antiques. An independent real estate appraiser may likewise be used to value any community real estate holdings.

Business interests are also inherently difficult to value, and create additional problems in calculating child support and spousal support payments. To properly value business interests, parties may produce financial records of the business such as tax returns, profit and loss statements, balance sheets, customer invoices, and other pieces of relevant information. Courts typically use either the marketable value rule or investment value rule when calculating the value of a business; however, there may be other methods employed by the court to calculate the value. Referral of that question to a forensic CPA is common.

Another type of marital asset that can require expert help to value is deferred compensation, which includes things like pension plans and stock options. When valuing deferred compensation packages, it may be appropriate to file a joinder motion to have the plan itself joined into the proceedings as a party, similar to the roles played by the spouses. By doing so the Plan is put on notice of the claims of the non-employee spouse and is also available to respond to discovery regarding the specifics of the Plan under scrutiny.

Since the division of marital assets, or community property, is final once the divorce decree has been entered, it's important to get the valuation correct the first time. Failure to properly value marital assets and debts can result in you getting less than you are otherwise entitled to under California law.  

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William A. Feinberg 1928 - 2001

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