How to Determine the Value of Possessions in a Divorce

By Jennifer Williams

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

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.

Household Goods

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.

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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.

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Inventory & Appraisement in Divorce


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How to Price the Worth of Household Goods for a Divorce

It doesn’t usually make a lot of sense to invest time, effort and attorney’s fees into quantifying your household goods in a divorce. In most cases, it’s far simpler and much cheaper to walk away from an item and purchase a replacement. Often, divorce courts will not allow you to litigate such mundane issues, and judges won’t take the time to order a division of household items. However, if you’re attempting to negotiate a marital settlement of this issue with your spouse, you'll need to know what each item is worth.

Household Inventory Checklist for a Divorce

Divorce is difficult enough without losing personal property items of special or sentimental value in the process. Prevent this by creating a household inventory checklist. An inventory ensures that all household goods amassed during the marriage are equally divided, and a checklist prevents any individual or category of property from being overlooked, either unintentionally or otherwise. Each party should make a separate checklist. Follow the checklists to create the inventories you will present to the respective attorneys or in the case of pro se litigants, that you will file directly with the court.

Divorce Without a Financial Settlement

Divorce laws in most states require the resolution of financial issues before a court enters a final divorce decree. You and your spouse must either sign a marital settlement agreement or a hearing or trial is conducted to resolve financial issues. Some states allow what is called a bifurcated process, a legal term meaning that the laws permit a termination of the marriage before resolving financial issues.

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