How North Carolina Courts Handle a Spouse’s Testimony About the Value of Personal Effects During Divorce Proceedings
You may be wondering whether you’ll need an expert to value your property during a divorce. It may be necessary to retain one, but there are also some cases, where a property owner can provide adequate testimony about the value of assets. In a recent North Carolina appellate decision, a plaintiff appealed from the judge’s equitable distribution of his and his wife’s property. He argued that the lower court had made a mistake in valuing sports memorabilia at $190,000 when his ex-wife hadn’t provided competent evidence of the memorabilia’s fair market value.
The couple had married in 1999. They had a child while married and separated in 2015. The husband sued for child support, child custody and attorneys’ fees. The wife counterclaimed. The husband moved for equitable distribution of their property. Of particular contention were items of sports memorabilia. Some was with the husband and some was with the wife. The wife thought the father had sold the missing memorabilia after they’d separated and believed appointing an expert was critical to value the memorabilia.
In the course of the divorce, the wife subpoenaed eBay to get the husband’s purchase history. She also sent the husband a spoliation letter. The husband went to their home and unloaded various sports items. The court allowed her to inspect his apartment and storage unit and she valued the items assigned to him at $190,000, while items assigned to her were valued at $5000. Included in the $190,000 figure were items not left behind that had been removed. Among other things the husband owned 13 boxes of baseball cards that were about 3200 a piece, 200 jerseys that were about $110 each plus the value of the signature when these jerseys were signed, as well as other memorabilia. Altogether the wife believed the fair market value was $190,000.
In 2017, the lower court entered an equitable distribution judgment and made various findings. It found that there was enough competent evidence to support the wife’s claim that the sports memorabilia in the husband’s possession was worth $190,000 and hers was worth only $5000. It ordered that the husband should have 40% of the marital estate and the wife should have 60% of the marital estate. It also found the husband had the salary and assets to be able to pay a distributive award of more than $108,000 to the wife.
The husband appealed. The appellate court explained it would uphold the lower court’s factual findings if supported by competent evidence. The trial court has the discretion to determine an equitable distribution of property. The husband argued that wife hadn’t offered competent evidence to support a factual finding that the sports memorabilia in his possession had a fair market value of $190,000.
The appellate court explained that to determine an equitable distribution, the lower court needs to: (1) classify the property as separate, divisible or marital, (2) calculate the property’s net value based on the evidence submitted by the parties, and (3) distribute the property in an equitable way. For the second step, the owner of the property is competent to testify about what his property’s worth, even if his knowledge wouldn’t qualify him as a witness if he weren’t the one to own it.
In this case, the appellate court determined that the wife’s opinion was substantiated by supporting facts. She’d spent a lot of time gathering documents and inventorying in order to assign value. Her testimony was extensive. The equitable distribution judgment was affirmed.
If you are concerned about property distribution during your divorce it’s important to consult experienced divorce attorneys. Please contact the Woodruff Family Law Group at 336.272.9122 or via our online form.