The purpose of a divorce, aside from determining parental responsibilities if there are children involved, is to divide marital property and marital debt. This blog does not discuss experts with regard to parental responsibilities such as the Child and Family Investigator (CFI) or the Parental Responsibilities Evaluator (PRE), which will be the subject of a future blog.
Whether there is a settlement by the parties or a hearing before the court (a “permanent orders hearing”) property and debts must be valued before they can be divided.
The parties, or the court, need solid, verifiable and reliable information regarding value. Colorado law requires the court to divide marital property and debt “equitably”, which means in a fair manner, under the circumstances. This does not always mean an “equal” division, but, if the circumstances do not call for it, most courts will strive for an equal or near equal division.
In order to obtain reliable information on value parties, attorneys and the court rely on experts. Attorneys are experts in the law, not in appraising property or determining earning capacity. It is much more cost effective to hire experts for this task and their reports are taken very seriously by the court.
The three most common types of experts are real estate appraisers, business appraisers and vocational rehabilitation experts. If the parties own special types of property, then appraisers who specialize in vehicles, art collections, stamp collections, antiques, firearms or other types of property may be used. A forensic accountant might be necessary in some circumstances, such as complex financial situations or businesses.
Real estate appraisers provide a current market value of real estate which can be used to determine the value of equity to be divided between the parties, or for the purposes of a “buy out”. In some situations, of equal importance is a date of marriage value of real estate, if such property was owned prior to the marriage. Some real estate appraisers can also offer a value as of a certain date in the past. This information is the basis of determining the martial versus separate property value of real estate.
Vocational experts will analyze a person’s education, experience and abilities, and apply those findings to current trends in the local employment market in order to produce a report providing an expert opinion on a person’s likely profession, wage and ability to earn in the future. This information is invaluable when the parties consider a fair settlement, or if the court must determine maintenance.
Without expert reports the parties and the court are left with the task of unravelling large amounts of documentary evidence and/or testimony, which could be hearsay, or scant to no evidence, in order to sort out the value of property or the ability of one or both of the parties to earn a living. This makes the task of reaching a fair settlement or the court’s task of dividing property extremely difficult and can result in an unfair division.
In short, expert reports are absolutely invaluable to parties trying to reach a settlement or the court in dividing property and determining maintenance. You should seriously consider the cost and benefit of expert reports in your divorce, and the professionals at Toussaint & Coaty can help you through every step of the process.