Valuation with Less than Ideal Proof

April 14, 2020 § 5 Comments

If you’re looking for the most efficient way to drain your client of all credibility in financial proof, let him submit an 8.05 financial statement that only an idiot would accept as accurate.

When Michael and Lisa Dickinson were in trial over their divorce, Michael submitted a financial statement listing the value of their former residence as $500,000, unsupported by any other evidence. Lisa valued it at $126,170, supported by the tax collector’s bill and valuation. Neither party offered a professional appraisal. The chancellor found Lisa’s valuation more credible. Dissatisfied, Michael appealed.

In Dickinson v. Dickinson, decided March 31, 2020, the COA affirmed. Judge Tindell’s opinion:

¶25. Michael also argues that the chancellor erred in the valuation of the couple’s marital home. Michael concedes that neither he nor Lisa submitted formal appraisals of the home to the chancellor at trial. Rather, each party submitted their Rule 8.05 financial statements with their alleged valuations of the home. [Fn omitted] Michael submitted a $500,000 valuation of the home, which the chancellor found to be speculative and unsupported by any other evidence or documentation. Lisa submitted a valuation of $126,170 along with the Jackson County Tax Collector’s bill and valuation statement, issued on November 26, 2014, which also valued the home at $126,170. Based upon the limited evidence presented, the chancellor valued the home at $126,170 and awarded the home to Lisa.

¶26. Lisa argues that the chancellor appropriately valued the home based upon the limited available evidence, and she cites to Williams v. Williams, 264 So. 3d 722 (Miss. 2019), in support of her argument. In Williams, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld a chancellor’s valuation of a couple’s marital property based upon limited evidence submitted by the parties. Id. at 728 (¶21). During the couple’s divorce proceedings, the wife submitted no evidence to the chancellor related to valuation other than her Rule 8.05 statement, while the husband did provide some documentation supporting his valuation of the marital property. Id. at (¶18). The chancellor ultimately valued the property based upon the husband’s documentation, which the wife appealed. Id. In upholding the chancellor’s valuation, the Supreme Court stated that it “refuse[d] to blame the chancellor for a party’s failure to present sufficient evidence of property value.” Id. at (¶20). The Supreme Court further held that “the chancellor’s duty is not to obtain appraisals of marital property.” Id. (citing Dunaway v. Dunaway, 749 So. 2d 1112, 1121 (Miss. Ct. App. 1999)). Where the parties present the chancellor with “less than ideal” proof, the Supreme Court held that the chancellor may rightfully use the available proof to arrive to the best conclusion possible. Id. at (¶21).

¶27. Here, the chancellor found Michael’s $500,000 valuation to be speculative and unsupported by any evidence, other than his Rule 8.05 financial statement. While Lisa also failed to submit an appraisal at trial, the chancellor found that her $126,170 valuation matched the Jackson County Tax Collector’s bill and valuation. Again, we cannot fault the chancellor for the parties’ lack of evidence. As such, we also cannot say that the chancellor
committed manifest error by using the best information available to value the marital home.

Thoughts:

  • A common and ridiculous practice is for parties to assign high values to items they agree for the other to have, and low values to items that they want for themselves. In one case I had where the parties agreed that the husband would have ownership of a riding lawnmower, the wife valued it at $18,000, and the husband valued it at $200. There was no testimony that it was either gold-plated or rusted out, so I settled somewhere in the lower extremity of that range. The case was affirmed on appeal, so I guess I did something right.
  • I think it’s malpractice if you don’t go over your client’s 8.05 in advance of trial and challenge the figures. You need to ask, among others: how did you come up with this figure?; are you really spending $700 a month on gas and oil?; why is the spinet piano valued at $10,000? If you don’t get those kinds of things straightened out in your office, you are sending your client off like a sheep to the slaughter.
  • On a related note, those of you who don’t work with your clients on their 8.05’s should know that it is painfully obvious that you neglected this aspect of client representation. Figures don’t add up. Some are almost illegible. One I saw actually had a dirty footprint on the front page. Another chancellor calls those “Parking Lot 8.05’s” because they look like they were hastily scrawled in the parking lot before entering the courthouse — and they probably were.

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§ 5 Responses to Valuation with Less than Ideal Proof

  • Zeke Downey says:

    Carter, you are supposed to just run the alcohol in as “Food” or maybe “Entertainment”. I suggest “Food”, since it’s not offensive to anyone, and people know everyone eats, as opposed to giving a lot to charity or church when they’ve moved out of the house and in with their girlfriend and are in a financial bind in the midst of a divorce. Or is there a “Food” blank in the 8.05 form? I always make my secretary go over it with clients, and she does a better job than I, plus it’s easier for me. I was never good at figures.

  • Carter Bise says:

    I smell something rotten when I see round figures of 10s, 25s, 50s, etc. Considering that a litigant is doing something that will have an effect for years to come, I would have my clients sit down and go through their check register(s) and bank statements and credit card statements and debit card print-outs just as I do when preparing my taxes to determine what is medical, charitable, etc. Only with charitable does it come out in the round numbers. I also think that there should be a line in the 8.05 for alcohol.

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