Plaintiff And Defendant Could Not Agree on The Valuation of The Marital Home, And the Court Appointed an Appraiser Discarding Both Plaintiff and Defendant’s Valuations.
Docket No. A-0346-20
Decided August 30, 2022
Submitted by New Jersey Divorce Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent unpublished decision the Appellate Division of New Jersey reversed an order denying a motion for reconsideration after plaintiff and defendant could not agree on the valuation of the marital home, and the court appointed an appraiser and relied solely on this appraiser’s value, discarding both plaintiff and defendant’s valuations.
In Knaust, The parties married in 1993. In 2018, the Family Part entered a final judgment of divorce (FJOD) incorporating a matrimonial settlement agreement executed by the parties. In May 2019, the parties amended the settlement agreement by consent order. The terms of the amendment included: an agreement to use a mutually selected appraiser and share the cost; terms for defendant’s buyout of plaintiff’s interest in the property; terms establishing defendant’s entitlement to one-half of plaintiff’s pension assets accumulated during the marriage; and terms subjecting plaintiff’s investment savings and employee stock option (ESOP) plans to equitable distribution. For the mutually selected appraiser, each party reserved the right to submit their own appraisal within sixty days if they disagreed with the joint appraiser’s report on property value.
In June 2019, less than a month after issuance of the consent order, defendant submitted a report which valued the marital residence between $300,000 and $325,000. Plaintiff rejected that value and submitted a September 2016 joint report that valued the marital property at $360,000. After efforts to reach a mutually agreeable value failed, plaintiff sought relief from the court to appoint its own appraiser.
In October 2019, the court granted plaintiff’s request. The court-appointed appraisal firm (Renwick) completed its report in December 2019. The report estimated the fair market value of the marital home to be $200,000.
Defendant next filed a notice of motion to enforce litigant’s rights, establishing the fair market value of the marital residence at $200,000 and confirming defendant’s buyout of $60,878. Defendant also sought production of all plaintiff’s statements for his work-related pension assets. The court granted defendant’s motion in May 2020, adopting the Renwick appraisal, noting that the parties failed to agree upon a marital home value on their own.
Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration of the May 2020 order, contesting the court’s acceptance of the Renwick valuation of the marital home as well as the equitable disposition of his pension. After oral argument, the court denied reconsideration. Applying the Rule 4:49-2 standard, the court found plaintiff failed to present “competent evidence” not considered by the court under the rule. The court further found plaintiff’s opposition to use of the Renwick appraisal “meritless,” concluding that plaintiff requested a neutral court appointed appraiser, and essentially got what he asked for. The court affirmed its prior order.
Plaintiff appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s denial of the motion for reconsideration, finding the court failed to consider the disputed valuation of the marital home with significantly varying valuations. Due to the factual dispute and different valuations, the Appellate Division found that a plenary hearing was necessary to resolve the factual dispute as to the valuation and it was inappropriate to rely solely on the court’s appointed evaluator.
This court opinion is important to understand the different roles the trial court plays in divorce proceedings. Here, the parties could not agree as to the valuation of the marital home, so the court, on motion, appointed an appraiser to be used that produced a value much lower than both of the parties’ evaluations. The Court was then supposed to conduct a plenary hearing (trial) to determine which valuation (defendant, plaintiff, or the Court’s) to utilize for the buyout. It is vital to hire an experienced divorce attorney with knowledge of appraisals and experts to ensure your claims for equitable distribution are protected.
If you have questions about marital home evaluations, equitable distribution, appraisals, alimony, child support, divorce and custody, contact the experienced matrimonial divorce attorneys at Hark & Hark today.
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