Valuation of Assets in Wisconsin Divorce and Legal Separation

As part of any Wisconsin divorce or legal separation process, there will be a need to divide marital property between you and your spouse. Whether you are seeking a divorce or a legal separation, there is a presumption in Wisconsin that all property acquired during the marriage should be divided equally between the parties, at the end of the divorce or separation process, regardless of whose name is on the deed, title or account. There are two statutory exceptions to this rule: if either you or your spouse have inherited assets or been gifted assets, they are exempt from division upon divorce or separation, provided they have not been commingled with marital assets (but rather, have been kept separate). Everything else, however, is presumed to be divided equally upon divorce or separation, and as such, it will always be necessary to determine the value of the assets you and your spouse own.

If you brought significant assets to the marriage, you may be able to argue that what you had, at the time of the marriage, should be returned to you, upon divorce or separation. Receiving credit for a pre-marital asset is not automatic, but rather something to argue for, as part of the property division aspect of the divorce or separation. This argument is more successful at the end of a shorter-term marriage. To determine the value of the portion of the asset that was pre-marital, you would need a statement from the account or a value for the asset, from the time of the marriage. That statement would be compared to a current statement or value, and the difference between them would be what you would argue should be the only divisible portion of the asset.

Valuation of the marital home can be done in several ways. If the parties agree, they may use the tax assessment value, as the value for the home. Otherwise, a residential property appraisal will be needed. Parties may choose to each retain their own appraiser, to assess the value of the home, or they may agree to have the home appraised jointly. A joint appraisal can save on having to spend the money to have two appraisals done. Typically, if parties each retain their own appraiser, depending on who intends to keep the home after the divorce or separation is final, the appraisals will differ. For example, an appraisal obtained by the party keeping the home will tend to be lower than an appraisal obtained by the other party. Typically, the home value will ultimately be set somewhere in the middle, and a joint appraisal could be beneficial in setting that value, or it could be high/low, depending on the perspective of the parties. To reach the equity value of the home, the current mortgage balance would be subtracted from the appraised value (or the assessed value). The equity is the asset value, to be offset as part of property division.

Divorce and separation processes generally use Kelley Blue Book values, for vehicles. Specifically, family courts tend to use the “good” condition, provided there are not any substantial mechanical or cosmetic issues with the vehicle. The “sale to a private party” value is also used. As part of a calculation of a vehicle’s value, it is very important to accurately report the mileage and any package options not standard with the make and model of vehicle. These details can dramatically affect the value of a car. To reach the asset value for a vehicle, any loan balance would be subtracted from the Kelley Blue Book value, to reach the overall value of the vehicle as an asset. Typically, in a divorce or separation, the party keeping the vehicle would also be responsible for the payment of any liens, on that vehicle. Sometimes, if a party owes more than the vehicle is worth, the vehicle will have negligible overall value, as an asset.

Pensions must be valued by an accountant or other financial professional, and they are not worth their face value, as reflected on a statement. The accountant will make use of actuarial tables and generally accepted formulae, to assign a dollar amount to the account. At the time a valuation is done, if the pension existed prior to the marriage, the person obtaining the valuation may ask that the accountant also calculate the value of the pre-marital portion, such that an argument may be made that the pre-marital value should be exempt from division, upon divorce or separation.

Personal property (“stuff”) is rarely worth, at the time of divorce or separation, what people originally paid for it. The standard measure for the value of personal property is what an uninterested, objective third party would be willing to pay for it, should the item be offered for sale, in its current state. As such, garage sale or Craigslist value would be a good place to start. The exception to this rule would be a situation wherein parties own fine art, antiques, jewelry, or other assets that would be appraised by a professional as having significant value. In that circumstance, the relevant appraiser would be retained, to assess the value of the asset. Otherwise, it is possible to request a personal property appraisal, in which an appraiser would take inventory of a party’s possessions and assign values to each one. However, these appraisals are quite expensive and the resulting value of the “assets” is rarely worth the appraisal.

Valuation of assets in a divorce or separation can be tricky, but there is a methodology to it. Divorce and separation are large components of our firm’s family practice, and we would be happy to discuss these issues with you, in the context of your unique situation. Feel free to call the office to schedule a free half-hour telephone consultation.

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