One issue which is within the control of the parties to a dissolution of a marriage more than any other is the valuation of the household effects, furnishings and appliances. There is nothing that runs up the attorney's fees more needlessly than this aspect of the case.
Why is this so much of a problem? Although you know what you purchased the furniture for, you also realize that it depreciates rather rapidly after you leave the store with it. Neither of the parties, and neither attorney, has any real idea of the value of the items. If you ask a used furniture man to come into your house and give you a "lot" sale value, he'll probably give you two cents on the dollar. If you take the items, piece by piece, and sell them at a garage sale, you will probably achieve a value somewhat near the fair market value of these items. But, who wants to go to this trouble, when each party is going to have to have some of these items to "start-up" again?
So, what shall we do?
1. List each and every item of household effects, furnishings and appliances. Make two complete lists. One list of the items that are in your possession and one list of the items that are in your spouse's possession. Don't list every pot and pan, etc. unless there are some exceptionally expensive items. Usually these are simply listed as "cooking utensils". You may, however, want to list the power appliances used in the kitchen.
2. After each item, set a value. What value do you place after the item? The value at which you would either be willing to take the item (as a credit against you share of the community property), or give the item to your spouse. In short, let's say you are trying to set down a value for a refrigerator. If you put down $200, then this means two things: (a) You will be willing to accept the refrigerator for a charge against your share of the community assets for $200, or (b) you will be willing to give the refrigerator to your spouse for exactly that price, for a charge against his or her share of the community property. For example, you are in a position to avoid all argument. Your position is; "Look, this is the price. I'll take it at this price, or you can have it at this price. I'm not arguing whether the price is fair." This means that you don't make the mistake of valuing the refrigerator at only $50 because you think you're going to get it. If the court should award the refrigerator to your spouse, you would not be very happy. Accordingly, you value each item as a "give or take" price.
3. If, for some unforeseen reason this doesn't work, there are some other alternatives:
(a) Sell all the furniture and appliances and divide the proceeds;
(b) Make a list of all items of household effects, furnishings and appliances. Flip a coin to see who goes first, and then alternately you and your spouse choose one item from the list. By this method, the items are approximately evenly divided;
(c) You and your spouse bid on each item. Let's say that we are concerned, again, with the refrigerator. You may bid $100, and your spouse may bid $200, and you make no further bid. In that case, your spouse gets the refrigerator and is credited with $200 towards his or her share of the community estate. The figures, after the bidding procedure, are then totaled up, and then it can be determined if one party owes the other party something, because of an unequal division.
4. At any rate, if your original values on a "give or take it basis" are good, we can probably avoid the alternate procedures set forth in paragraph (3) above. Moreover, if your original figures are good, I'll guarantee you that the attorney's fees for this divorce will be considerably less than if we have to go to court and fight over each item.
I would like you to know at the outset, that if we end up going to trial over the issue of valuing household effects, furnishings and appliances, the court will require that we have appraisers come in to testify, which will also run up the costs of your case.
One final note: In cases where children are involved, please consider their furniture, toys, bicycles, camping equipment and other sports equipment to be theirs. Those items should go with the children, and whichever party has custody of the children would not be charged with the value of those items.