Valuing Marital Property:
The Use of Neutral Experts

By Staff Writer

Often in matrimonial actions, it becomes necessary to appraise personal property, such as jewelry, art or antiques. When valuation issues are presented, it is usually a party’s initial reaction to want to retain his or her own expert. If this occurs, the other party will likely retain his or her own expert, resulting in two separate experts (one for each party) and two separate valuations of the same property.

Retaining two separate experts has distinct disadvantages. Such a course of action is almost always more costly and time consuming than if a single, neutral, expert is selected. It is likely that the two experts will arrive at different values for the same piece of property. This is not necessarily because one or both are incorrect but because the valuation process involves a fair amount of personal judgment. Two competing experts will result in higher expert fees and attorney fees. Because both experts will have to testify at trial, both parties’ attorneys will have to bill their clients for this additional time in Court.

When two different values are presented, some Courts refuse to adopt one appraisal over the other and, rather, split the difference down the middle. When this occurs, neither party is satisfied.

If you have property which must be valued, you should consider using one, neutral appraiser. A neutral expert can be selected upon agreement by the parties or, in some States, by Court order even over the objection of one of the parties. The advantages to using one expert are many. Not only does the use of a neutral expert result in only one appraisal fee, it also ensures that a minimum of attorney time will be used in Court addressing the value of the property.

Selecting a neutral appraiser is often easier than one might imagine. Appraisers often develop a reputation among matrimonial attorneys regarding their expertise and the quality of their reports. Attorneys can often readily agree to utilize a particular expert. If your attorney cannot recommend a particular expert, some research should be done to guarantee that the expert selected is sufficiently qualified.

The expert should belong to at least one of the two most prestigious appraisal organizations: the American Society of Appraisers or the Appraisers Association of America, both of which have stringent entrance requirements. You should also examine other factors, such as the appraiser’s number of years experience, how many matrimonial valuations he or she has prepared, how often the appraiser has testified as an expert in Court, and whether the expert has experience appraising the specific type of property involved in your case. You should also ascertain how long it will take the expert to prepare his or her report to ensure that it will not be necessary to delay the trial. Once a neutral expert is selected, the property at issue can be valued and your case moved closer toward resolution.