Imagine selling an old baseball card at a garage sale for a few dollars only to learn that it is worth much more. Sadly, it would be gone, and there would be nothing you could do about it. The same can happen in your divorce. While your most obvious assets, such as real estate, bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, business interests and even cars, get most of the attention, there may exist other assets of significant value. Even though your antiques, artwork or collections, like coins, baseball cards or comic books, may only be of interest to a limited group of collectors, that does not mean that these types of items do not have value. If you or your spouse purchased any of these types of items during the marriage, they would presumably be subject to equitable distribution and may have substantial value.
Under New Jersey law, marital property should be equitably divided, which does not necessarily mean equally divided. The Family Court has broad discretion in applying the statutory factors set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23.1 when determining how to distribute these assets. It might seem unfair that, in the event of a divorce, one spouse would have to part with collectibles, especially where they may have sentimental value and even if the other spouse never expressed any interest in the items during the marriage. However, in a divorce these items are considered assets and are subject to equitable distribution.
The question then becomes: “What can be done to try to avoid the distribution of sentimental items or to keep a collection intact in the event of divorce?” Simply put, just because certain property is subject to equitable distribution does not mean that it must be distributed. Other assets of comparable value could be distributed in lieu of the cherished property. But this means that the collection would need to be valued--which would likely entail retaining the service of a qualified appraiser rather than just undertaking an online search to try to determine the value of the collectible.
Needless to say, if there is a dispute over the value of a collectible, the determination of whether to obtain an appraisal is a decision best made in consult with an attorney. For a calculated, strategic approach in how to handle the distribution of collectibles in a divorce, contact the experiences family law attorneys at Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann & Knopf LLP.