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Valuing Property in California Divorce Cases – In re Marriage of Sattler

California is a community property state. This means that, except where a specific statute says otherwise, all property acquired by a spouse during the marriage while living in California is shared equally among the spouses in the event of divorce. But how do you determine the value of that property? In In re Marriage of Sattler, California’s Second District Court of Appeals says valuation decisions can simply be based on one spouse’s testimony under certain circumstances.

calculator-1406929-mAfter Husband and Wife were divorced, Husband filed an appeal challenging a superior court’s division of certain marital property. Of the couple’s seven automobiles, the lower court awarded two – a Chevy Aveo and a Kia Rio – to Wife during the proceedings. Because Husband stated that he had sold both of the vehicles, the Court ordered him to pay Wife for the value of each car. Wife testified that the Aveo was worth more than $6,600 and the Rio was worth $4,700, figures that the trial court accepted as accurate.

On appeal, Husband that the lower court erred by relying solely on Wife’s testimony, rather than documentary evidence, to determine the value of the cars and that the court also wrongly valued a condominium in Puerto Rico that the couple owned. These missteps, Husband argued, skewed the way that the court ultimately divided the property and overstated the amount that he owed Wife.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the Second District said the lower court acted within its authority in determining the value of the cars based on Wife’s testimony. As the court explained, judges are required to make valuation decisions based on “substantial evidence,” which “may consist of the testimony of a single witness.” In this case, the court noted that neither spouse provided documentary evidence regarding the vehicles’ value. Instead, Wife testified to the values and the trial court found this testimony credible. “[W]e defer to the superior court’s credibility determinations,” the court concluded.

The court also upheld the lower court’s valuation of the Puerto Rico property. While both Husband and Wife allegedly submitted competing appraisals of the property, it appeared that the lower court sided with Wife after finding her to be a more credible witness. The lower court also said that her appraisal was more in line with the property’s original purchase price, as well as the time elapsed since they bought the home. However, the appeals court noted that Husband didn’t provide a copy of his appraisal on appeal and didn’t present any evidence that he actually entered it as evidence before the lower court. This lack of evidence, the court said, was “fatal” to his argument.

As a result, the court affirmed the judgment.

With more than 30 years of experience representing clients in divorce and other related proceedings, San Jose divorce lawyer John S. Yohanan has the experience and ability to help guide you through the process while ensuring that your legal rights are protected. Contact us online or call our office at (408) 297-0700 to learn more about how we can help you.

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