Making the Judge’s Job Easier: The Asset Table
July 19, 2017 § 4 Comments
The easier you make it for the judge to rule in your favor, the more likely it is that she will. That’s a thought I have expressed here many times.
When it comes to equitable distribution, think about how it’s usually done. On day one at 9:46, you ask your client about the living room furniture: its value, age, condition, whether it’s marital or not. Then, at 10:18, you return to the assets after a foray into some HCIT testimony. Ten minutes is devoted to an IRA and the couple’s vehicles. Then some custody testimony. At 11:38, you start questioning about a PERS account. Lunch break. After lunch, more PERS followed by a venture into more HCIT. At 2:09, more testimony about the furniture. Then back to HCIT. Day two is pretty much the same. After everyone has rested, the judge then has to dig through notes to ferret out the evidence on assets so as to make a ruling on equitable distribution. Don’t be surprised if the judge misses something. Oh, and if you happen to interrupt her while she is working on that opinion, don’t be surprised if she is in a foul humor.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Before you go to trial, why not make an asset table? It should have six columns: (1) a number assigned serially to each item to facilitate questioning; (2) a description of the asset (e.g., “Red couch – Living room” or “Apache Industries 401(k) account no. AFP0875-401-CX” or “2015 blue Ford F-150 pickup”; (3) Designation as marital or non-marital; (4) fair market value; (5) Debt associated with the item; (6) Whether Husband (H) or Wife should receive the item. Some people use a spreadsheet to do this; others use a table in a word processing program. When you come up with a template for it, you can use it time and again.
Once you have had the asset list properly identified and introduced, you can question your client from the table. It eases the work of the chancellor considerably, and will go a long way toward giving the judge the impression that you know what you’re doing.
In this district, we require counsel for both parties to come up with a consolidated asset table. You can’t get a trial date in my court until you do, when equitable distribution or alimony is an issue. This requires the parties to agree to what the assets are, but they can disagree as to values, whether the asset is marital or not, and who should receive the item. The obvious virtue of this approach is that the judge does not have to figure out whether the wife’s testimony about the “green chair” was referring to the “chair in the living room” testified to by husband.
We have had few problems getting counsel to cooperate to come up with the list. When a client drag his feet, the judge’s suggestion that he will simply use the more diligent party’s list usually gets cooperation.
Don’t forget to provide your asset list in discovery if that information is requested. You don’t want to be stopped at trial by failure to provide it in discovery.
Remember, too, that although a client may give his or her opinion as to values, some values are best proven otherwise. A residence, for example, should have an appraisal, unless the parties agree to the value. The value of financial assets should reflect the most recent statements. If you want the judge’s ruling to be as accurate as possible, you should provide as accurate as possible information.
The asset table may be appended to an 8.05, or it may be referenced in the appropriate place in the financial statement.
This may seem like extra work, but you will be gratified at how much easier it makes your trial work, and how much clearer and effective your case for equitable distribution will be.