Discovering the Marital Estate – Part III: Putting It All Together

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Now it’s time for the fun part – putting all the pieces of the puzzle together to form a picture of the marital estate. You may find that some of the pieces are still missing, but once you fit together the pieces you have, it will be easier to see what you are missing and what is needed to complete the puzzle.

I always start by listing real property, followed by retirement funds and accounts, then other types of investment vehicles, standard checking and savings account, and lastly vehicles, personalty etc. Within those categories, I first list jointly titled assets followed by those in Husband’s name and then those in Wife’s name. Some attorneys prefer to list all jointly titled assets first followed by those of Husband and then those of Wife with the type of asset being the secondary consideration in the organizational scheme, so even if you have your own preference you may need to adapt to what works better for the attorney.

No matter what the organizational scheme, the information you will require to put the picture together is the same for each of the assets (except for real property which works a little differently): value as of date of marriage (if applicable), value as of date of separation, and current value (which of course will need to be updated at key points throughout the course of the case).*

There are software programs out there which can be useful for purposes of tracking the marital inventory and which will even generate a proposed distribution that takes into account such factors as jurisdiction and tax consequences. Prior to our firm acquiring one such program, I utilized Word tables to create a chart which set forth the assets and liabilities and which the attorney could further employ to set forth a proposed distribution by adding or changing columns. These software programs have their benefits, but the charts they generate do not have the level of versatility that can be achieved with Word tables. For example, if the parties are contesting date of separation, you may need to know the value of the assets as of each parties’ proposed separation date until the issue of the date of separation has been resolved. The software program which we employ does not have the flexibility to add a second “date of separation” column to the chart. In these instances, I will create a chart in Word rather than generate two separate charts from the software program (which would essentially involve setting up two different “case files” on the same case within the program).

Here is an example of how I like to set up my information:


Value as of
1/4/2001 (DOM)

Value as of 5/15/2011
(W’s DOS)

Value as of 7/27/2013
(H’s DOS)

Current Value on 1/16/2014

how titled

Marital residence: purchased in 04/2007 for $285,000; current FMV per appraisal obtained 11/2013 is $315,000; outstanding mortgage balance as of 1/12/2014: $115,422 NOTE: W contributed $75,000 to down payment from inheritance;






Joint checking #0000






Joint savings #0000






Joint Fidelity Investments Account






H’s 401K






W’s 401K






W’s CD #00000 12M, matured 10/2/12; cashed out by W






You can set up a separate column for notes or comments, but I find it just as easy to include the notes with the name of the asset. These notes may be modified or even deleted over the course of the case as more information is forthcoming.

Let’s start by looking at the marital residence which is listed first. It was purchased after the date of marriage and is titled in joint names. The value of the residence will be determined by deducting the outstanding balance of any mortgages and/or other liens on the property from the fair market value. In our example, the parties have agreed to a joint appraisal, and the fair market value has been determined to be $315,000. The outstanding mortgage is $115,422; therefore, the current value of this marital asset is $199,578. However, note that some courts will further reduce the marital value by the amount of the closing costs. In Pennsylvania, Montgomery County does so, but Bucks County does not. Always be mindful of your venue when determining these values. In our example, if this were a Montgomery County case, the value would be the fair market value ($315,000) less the outstanding mortgage ($115,422) less 7% closing costs ($22,050) which comes out to $177,528.

As I mentioned, the notes are very important as they help keep track of issues that need to be addressed at the time of equitable distribution. Note that Wife contributed $75,000 to the down payment when the marital residence was purchased. She may, therefore, be entitled to a vanishing credit against the marital value of this asset which your attorney – thanks to your note – will know to review and analyze.

The next few items on the chart are the joint investments account and the joint checking and savings. These accounts were established during the marriage and have been – and still are – jointly funded by the parties. Therefore, the marital value is the current value. (Keep in mind, however, that while this is true in our example, it may not always be the case.)  Moving down the chart, note that only one asset – Husband’s 401K – had a value as of the date of marriage. This base amount would be deducted from the current value of the account before determining the marital value, but the gains and/or losses on the premarital value from the date of marriage until the date of separation would be included in determining the marital value. Post-marital contributions, however, do not work the same way. In determining the marital value of these accounts, any post-separation contributions as well as the gains and/or losses on those post-separation contributions would need to be deducted from the value as of the time of the evaluation. Don’t expect me to set forth those calculations for you: it’s time to hire an expert.

By the way, note that we do not have the current value for Wife’s 401K. This is a piece of the puzzle which we can readily see is missing and which we will need to obtain.

The final item on the chart is Wife’s 12-month CD which was established on October 2, 2011 and matured on October 2, 2012. Is this a marital asset? Well, that depends. If Husband wins on the date of separation issue, the CD will have been opened and was cashed out during the marriage and is, therefore, a marital asset. If Wife wins on this issue, this will mean that the account was opened post-separation. However, Wife is still not out of the woods because we now need to know the source of the funds used to open the CD. If those funds were removed from one of the parties’ joint accounts, then the CD was established with marital funds and is a marital asset. On the other hand, if Wife opened the account with her post-separation earnings, this is a non-marital asset and should be removed from the marital inventory.

These are just a few of the issues which may need to be dealt with in establishing the marital inventory. In fact, this article has completely overlooked the treatment of marital debt (other than the mortgage which doesn’t count since it is taken into consideration in determining the value of the residence). You may also need to trace funds if a party cashes out a marital asset post-separation without the other party’s knowledge or approval. Perhaps such issues will be addressed in a later article.

What issues have you run into in attempting to determine the value of the marital estate? Do you have any tips that you would like to share? Please feel free to leave a comment and start a dialog.

In the meantime, I hope all is well with you and yours.


*This is based upon standard family law practice in PA. Other states may have different standards/methods for valuing the marital estate.

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