Determining the Value of Real Estate in Divorce

The division of property in an Illinois divorce is based on the principle of equitable distribution. This means a court is not legally required to divide a couple’s marital property 50/50. Rather, if a couple cannot resolve any outstanding division of property issues on their own, a judge will make a “fair” distribution taking into account a number of factors.

Of course, before the court can divide marital property, it must determine how much the property is worth. Appraising a marital asset is often just as contentious of an issue for spouses as deciding who actually gets the asset. This is especially true when dealing with the marital home or other real property.

Testimony Regarding Appraisal Not “Hearsay”

Here is an illustration from a recent Illinois divorce case. This is only an example meant to show how courts may handle appraisal issues. The case itself is not considered binding legal precedent in future cases.

The husband and wife, in this case, owned several pieces of real estate throughout Illinois. The wife managed the properties. After filing for divorce, she filed a list of assets with the court that included her assessment of each property’s value.

At trial, the wife testified she based her assessments on an appraisal report prepared for her several months after initiating divorce proceedings. She did not identify the appraiser. The husband disagreed with most of the wife’s valuations. Although he did not conduct his own appraisal, he testified as to what he thought the values should be based on sales of “comparable” properties in the same area.

The trial judge largely sided with the wife. Noting her “intimate familiarity” with the properties that she managed during the marriage, the judge found her testimony to be more credible. The husband appealed, arguing the wife’s evidence was nothing more than “hearsay” based on the unidentified appraiser’s report.

The appeals court disagreed with the husband’s assertion. The Illinois First District Appellate Court said the wife’s testimony was not hearsay because the appraisals themselves were not admitted to evidence, only her personal opinions based, among other things, on the contents of the appraisal report.

The general rule in Illinois divorce cases is that a property owner is deemed qualified to testify as to the value of his or her own property. The husband, therefore, had the burden to prove “that special circumstances exist” demonstrating his wife’s testimony was incompetent. He failed to do so, according to the appeals court.

Need Help With a Complex or High Asset Illinois Divorce?

Ideally, a divorcing couple should come to an agreement as to the value of their property. If possible, tt is often a good idea to hire a qualified third-party appraiser on whom you can both agree. But, as the case above illustrates, an appraisal is not legally necessary to establish property value. It is important, however, for a spouse to provide as much documentation as possible explaining any property valuation proposed to the court.

An experienced Will County family law attorney can help with property valuation and other issues arising from a complex, high-asset divorce. Contact any one of our three convenient locations today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team.