Q My husband owns a business. As I expected, he refused to agree on our having one appraiser whose opinion would be binding on both of us. So we each hired and obtained separate appraisals for the business. His appraiser’s valuation was 35 percent less than the value determined by my appraiser. My husband said he’d split the difference or seek a third opinion.
My lawyer believes my husband knows his was a low-ball number and that splitting the difference means he’ll still get more than half the value of the business. My lawyer also suggests that we agree to have the valuation determined by an arbitrator. I feel any trial is a bad idea.
Do you have another suggestion?
A Arbitration is great, but only if the arbitrator is either a lawyer or retired judge who is experienced in presenting or evaluating evidence to arrive at the value of a business. An experienced appraiser will: insist on talking with the business owner (your husband), plus top employees and others who work in the business; go behind the numbers on tax returns to be sure all income is being reported; and change the company’s net income by adding back money spent for personal, nonbusiness, and unsupported expenses, etc.
Trials in the Probate Court have lots of interruptions because the judge also has to hear emergency motions, pretrials, status conferences, and so on. But the arbitrator will only be hearing your case. Your trial will go day-to-day from 9 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. with short breaks. After trial, the arbitrator can concentrate on preparing a decision. But the judge has to rule on hundreds of cases and prepare numerous findings while trying to find time to write a decision on your case. An arbitration trial is less formal because the trial is held in a conference room in the arbitrator’s office. Also, even though you and your husband need to pay the arbitrator, the cost of trying the case is usually much less. That is because the lawyers don’t waste time sitting around doing nothing while waiting for the judge to attend to other cases before getting back to your case.
The parties sign a contract that provides, among other things, that the findings of the arbitrator are final and binding, unless there has been a clear mathematical error or fraud, which is rare. Then the arbitrator’s decision is presented to the judge who – 99 percent of the time – will incorporate it into a judgment of divorce.
Arbitration may be more expensive than getting a third opinion even if you agreed that third value would be binding.
Even if you believe this information is a lot like sausage-making, then – depending on your diet – the end result may be far more palatable.