During a marriage, it is easy to accumulate a lot of stuff. Both real and personal property are typically purchased jointly by married couples, so when the couple decides to divorce, all these items must be divided between them. Courts encourage couples to come to their own agreements about how to divide property and many do so. Methods of valuation vary depending on the nature of the property and whether your and your spouse are negotiating a settlement agreement or preparing for trial.
Real estate is typically the most expensive thing couples jointly own. A proper, professional appraisal is essential for two reasons: so the spouse who is keeping the property knows exactly how much he or she owes the other spouse and the property may be refinanced into the name of the spouse who is keeping the property. Also, if the value of the couple's real property becomes an issue for trial, a professional appraisal is required as evidence of the fair market value at the time of divorce.
The value of your household goods, such as furniture and clothing, is typically not included in a property settlement and courts do not attempt to divide these items unless you have an item of significant value, such as a museum-quality antique. You don't need to include regular household goods in your property settlement, but if you and your spouse are trying to informally divide the furniture, for example, you should use resale value rather than retail price. The resale value of such items can be determined by comparing the asking price for similar items in newspaper classified advertisements and eBay.
High Value Personal Property
Couples lucky enough to own original art, antiques or jewelry can find themselves in for a headache during divorce. These items must be appraised for resale value as of a particular date, which may vary by jurisdiction. This date is usually either the date the couple physically separated or the date the divorce petition was filed. Local antique dealers and gallery owners often provide appraisal services, or any of the internationally known auction houses can refer a respected appraiser.
Valuation guides published by Kelley Blue Book and the National Automobile Dealer Association are the accepted standard in valuing automobiles. A photocopy from such a source or a print-out from a corresponding website is usually acceptable evidence of resale value in court. Collectible vehicles, however, should be appraised to ensure an accurate determination of resale value.
Financial Instruments and Accounts
Bank accounts, investment portfolios and retirement accounts can be valued by account statements. If, however, the portfolio includes unvested stock options, valuation can get difficult and may require the expertise of a licensed CPA with experience in divorce valuations.