W.M.W. (Husband) and K.C.W. (Wife) filed for divorce. They could not agree on how their marital property should be divided and how much spousal maintenance (support) should be paid. After a permanent orders hearing, the Colorado district court judge assigned to decide the disputed issues in their case entered orders that Husband believed were incorrect, so he appealed the district court’s rulings to the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Husband argued in his appeal that the district court’s property division was inequitable because it “(1) failed to value the personal property; (2) failed to include [W]ife’s Jamaican property as part of the marital estate; and (3) ordered him to pay more of the marital debts.” The court of appeals “perceive[d] no abuse of discretion [by the district court judge] in the property division” and affirmed this part of the district court’s decision.

The focus of this post will be on issue (1)–the Colorado district court’s alleged failure to value the parties’ personal property. Issue (2), issue (3), and the district court’s spousal maintenance order will be addressed separately in other posts.

Property Division in Colorado Divorce Cases

In a Colorado divorce case, a district court “shall set apart to each spouse his or her property and shall divide the marital property, without regard to marital misconduct, in such proportions as the court deems just after considering all relevant factors….” C.R.S. § 14-10-113(1).

The property division must be equitable, but not necessarily equal. And an equitable division depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. “The key to an equitable distribution is fairness, not mathematical precision.”

In re Marriage of Wright, 2020 COA 11, ¶ 3 (quoting In re Marriage of Gallo, 752 P.2d 47, 55 (Colo. 1988))

Before a Colorado district court judge can equitably divide marital property, the judge must “find the approximate current value of all property owned by the parties.” But “specific findings as to the value of each asset are not always required.” In circumstances where the parties present conflicting evidence of asset valuations, “the court may order that each party should retain the property in his or her possession without attributing a value.” In re Marriage of Wright, 2020 COA 11, ¶ 4.

The Possible Consequence of Presenting Unsubstantiated and Imprecise Evidence of the Value of Personal Property to the Court

Wife valued the personal property at $2,900, but Husband claimed it was worth only $500. At the permanent orders hearing, Husband provided unsubstantiated and imprecise estimates of the value of their personal property with statements such as the lamps were worth “somewhere in the range of $600, $700” and the paintings and mirrors were worth “several hundred [dollars].”

After hearing this evidence, the district court concluded that it was “almost an impossibility” to value the parties’ personal property. Therefore, the Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision that “it was equitable for each party to retain the property in his or her possession.” In re Marriage of Wright, 2020 COA 11, ¶ 6.

Lessons Learned

  • When dividing marital property in a Colorado divorce case, a judge must find the approximate current value of all property owned by the parties.
  • If the parties present unsubstantiated and imprecise evidence of the value of personal property, then the judge can divide the parties’ personal property by ordering each party to retain the personal property in his or her possession.