EP 229: What Date Do You Value Assets in Divorce?

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A question that’s been coming up quite a bit is what day or what month do I use to value all of my stuff? What day do I pick to value the house, value the retirement account, use what numbers in the bank account? Is it June of this year? Is it April of last year? Is it when I filed for divorce? And or is it when the trial date is coming up? What day do I use to pick to value all of our stuff? And it’s a really important question and a really complicated question because the date that you value all of your stuff can have really important impacts. I’ll give you just a few examples so you know what I’m talking about. Let’s just say you separated two years ago, and now you’re finally getting to the divorce negotiation, which is a very common situation.

Well, two years ago, your house may have been worth $500,000, but let’s say now your house is worth $700,000. And you’re planning on keeping the house. Do you use the $500,000 valuation from two years ago, or do you use the $700,000 valuation? Or a more complicated subject that I’ve been dealing with a lot lately is people who have stock options. This one’s a very tricky one, but if you have stock options, those options often have certain grant dates where you get more options or certain exercises dates where those options get a lot more liquid or have more value. And so, one of the things that gets complicated is, well, when you’re trying to get divorced or you or your spouse has stock options, not only what date do you use to value those options? Because generally speaking, oftentimes those options can fluctuate substantially in value over time, but also how many options are actual marital property versus not?

And trying to figure that out can be very important. And the reason I bring up this subject is it is something that you should be thinking of. And then the third example that actually happens is a very simple one that actually doesn’t have a lot of complications, but something you should be thinking about, which is, let’s just say, I was talking to someone this morning about this. Let’s just say you and your spouse are going to negotiate things yourselves, and it’s relatively amicable, all things considered. And you’re trying to figure out, well, what day do we use to pick for the bank accounts? Do we use last month? Do we use three months ago, whatever it is? And we just want to make sure that we’re all on the same page and that could be a simple situation, but the point is, is that all of your property fluctuates.

Oh, and then one more, sorry, I said that one more example, but if you think about a retirement account or a stock brokerage account or an investment account. Investments in your account fluctuate every day. And so if you were to calculate your investments on April 5th, that same investment account will have a totally different value on April 6th. And it could have a very different value in July of the next year. So there are a lot of things to think about when it comes to what date you pick to value assets. And I just want to give you some things to think about. And the important thing about this episode is to know what date to pick and to be thinking about what date to use. And it may give you some thoughts in terms of what timing you should pursue when it comes to your divorce process.

And another way to think about the date that you value the assets is your separation date. And the goal in your divorce is to have a date where all of your assets, all of your debts are valued as of that date. So there is no confusion. So things go up in the future, that’s not something that gets discussed. If things go down in the future, that’s not something that really gets discussed either. The goal is to have it consistent going forward. Now, what is extra complicated about this topic is two things. One is that every state has very different laws as to how the separation date or the date that you value assets gets calculated. On top of that, it can change within the divorce process and depending on your state’s rules.

And so you need to really understand and talk with an attorney about the ways that your assets may be valued and sometimes revalued. And I’ll give you some examples of what the options might be. So in some states, you use the date that you separated. Now, what does separation mean? For some people, it’s very clear. The data separation could be the date that one spouse moves out of the house, or I talk to plenty of people where one spouse lives upstairs. The other spouse lives in the basement. And you could use that as the date of separation, but oftentimes you are still living under the same roof, pretty much in the same space. And it’s hard to determine what that date of separation is. And sometimes it can be a big fight. And when I say fight, I’ll say negotiation about what the date of separation is because whatever date you pick could have a very big impact on how much money each spouse ends up with at the end of the day.

So the date of separation is one option. A second option that comes up all the time is a very clean and easy one to understand, which is the date you filed for divorce, right? So the day you file, that can oftentimes end up being the date that you use to value all of your houses, your bank accounts, your credit card debt, your retirement accounts, et cetera, would be on that date you file for divorce. A third option that can come up as well, is the date, or sometime right before a trial. So oftentimes if you have, or sometimes if you have a trial date set, your state may say, and as I said, all of this is very state-dependent. So you need to figure out the rules in your state, but your state may say that, okay, well, we have a trial coming up in nine months. I’m just going to say the trial for sake of example is going to be in December. So they might say we’re going to value everything as of October and use that as the value of all the assets.

And if you’re coming up on a trial date, you may have been in this process for a year, two, three years or longer to get to that date. And therefore, that’s why they decide to do everything closer to the actual trial date because they know that things have fluctuated quite a bit. And then finally, the last option is oftentimes, or sometimes you can decide upon a date that you want. So if you and your spouse agree that this is the date that we’re going to use for separation to value all of our assets, then that’s the date that you pick.

And it could be as simple as that, but both of you have to agree. And it’s not always super simple to get both of you to agree. So there are lots of options there. Could be the date of separation, could be the date you file for divorce, could be a date right before a trial, or could be a date that you and your spouse agree upon. But an important point to know is the date that you separated, the date that you value all of your assets can have a huge impact on your divorce and how much money each person gets. And one of the places that comes up a lot of times in the coaching discussions and divorce strategy discussions is what date should we be pushing for? And why?

Because if you have stock options that grant in three months, well, maybe you should file for divorce now to protect those options that you get granted to you in three months, right? Because they wouldn’t be included in the marital pile. Or maybe the question is, well, we should push for a date later down the line because there are benefits to waiting in your particular situation. It really just depends. And it depends on your situation, depends on your state, but it’s a topic for discussion that can oftentimes get overlooked by one party. And I want to make sure that you are aware of it and thinking of it when it comes to determining well, how much is all of this stuff really worth?