Settle or Sell It –When Divorcing Couples Can’t Agree on Value

June 4, 2019

People collect all sorts of things, from stamps or movies to action figures or wine.  So when a couple separate, what happens about the collection?  Who gets it and what is it worth?

The Collection of Books

In a recent property dispute, one of the biggest points for the Court to decide was the value to be placed on the husband’s collection of books.  How much were they worth and should an order be made they that were to be sold?  The book collection was clearly important to the husband and the Court said that he had a ‘considerable focus’ on it throughout the marriage.  Cash that they had been given as wedding gifts was used by him to buy books for his collection.  Even when the relationship was in decline and the wife’s parents gave them $10,000 to take a holiday to try to salvage the marriage, on the vacation the husband spent $2,000 buying books.  After that he insisted that the wife pay for renovations to the home to create storage facilities for his book collection.  She refused and the relationship went down-hill.

When parties to a relationship separate, the assets of the relationship are generally valued and divided as either agreed between the parties or as ordered by the Court.  But what happens when the parties simply can’t agree on what the assets are worth? The short answer is that the Court may order that the assets be sold in order to determine their true value.

Who Gets the Books?

In this case, although the husband asserted that the book collection was worth an estimated $183,905.00, the wife contended that it was worth more than double that amount at $384,421.00. Both parties had brought their own book collection “experts” to the table, however the Court did not accept their evidence because neither was able to show that they had any real expertise on the subject of valuing books.  The Court also considered that the wide differences between the valuations and the influence of a volatile market for specific property such as books made it difficult to ascertain a correct market value for the books.

The Court ordered that rather than any party maintaining the book collection that it be sold in its entirety and that the proceeds be divided proportionally.

If You Want It, Be Fair In Its Value

This is not an uncommon occurrence in family law matters, particularly in relation to real property. Though the parties may (unlike in this case) have credible experts willing to testify in Court, if they can’t come to any middle ground in relation to the property the Court may decide to elect an independent realtor to value and list the property for sale.

Though it is possible that the Court may allow the parties more time to obtain second appraisals, the Court is aware of its obligation to maintain the value of the property and have it dealt with promptly. This is particularly relevant for assets which:

  • may fall into a state of decline if neither party is named as the owner;
  • may decrease in value if not dealt with promptly, such as with company shares;
  • is subject to a loan and may incur debts if neither party is able or willing to continue paying said loan; and/or
  • may incur damage from either party.

The Court’s priority in property settlements is to distribute the property in a way that achieves the most efficient and fairest result for both parties. It is important for parties to a divorce to remember that if they don’t want to sell an asset of the relationship for any reason they should be reasonable when it comes to agreeing on the value of the asset.

Should you have any queries in relation to family law and property disputes, the family law experts at Websters Lawyers would be happy to answer your questions with a free no obligation consultation. You can call and speak to one of our friendly specialists on 8231 1363 or contact us here.

Isaacson & Isaacson [2019] FCCA 522 (6 March 2019)