By: Stephanie Sauer
When couples divorce often times the marital home is the most valuable asset that the parties must divide. If the parties cannot come to an agreement then they must proceed to trial. The trial in which assets are valued and divided is called the Equitable Distribution trial (“ED trial”). At the ED trial, the Court must hear evidence as to the value of any asset before it can be divided. If you retain counsel, that attorney is likely to recommend and encourage that an appraisal be completed. An appraisal can cost anywhere between $300.00 to $700.00 and provides the parties the fair market value of the real property. The appraiser, as an expert, may have to testify at trial as to the proposed value of the property if the parties cannot agree in advance of the trial date.
In lieu of an appraisal, a party may try and use the real estate tax assessment for the marital home to value the property at trial. The tax assessed value of the property is often times lower than the fair market value provided through a formal appraisal. Historically, many courts have accepted real estate tax assessments to value real property because attorneys have successfully argued that a real estate tax assessment is a document that falls within a hearsay exception and can therefore be admitted. However, in Gebler v. Glock, the Supreme Court of Virginia firmly held that a tax assessment record contains the expert opinion of the public official as to the value of the real property. The Court went on to further hold that admission of a tax assessment record would allow a party to introduce expert opinion as to the value of the home without requiring that party to qualify the expert or satisfy the foundational requirements for admission of expert testimony. Therefore, while the tax assessment document itself may fall under a hearsay exception the opinion therein does not and cannot be offered to value the real property. If a party fails to value an asset then the Court cannot divide that asset, which can be hugely detrimental to a party needing the funds from the home to start their new life.
It is imperative to work with competent attorneys who are up to date on relevant case law and are able to successfully and aggressively navigate the equitable distribution process.
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