Family law comes back to TV in episode 3 of “Untying the Knot.”  This week we meet young Chicago couple Tim and Kelly Weiss who are divorcing after 8 years of marriage.  In the first two episodes, the couples seemed more clinical and able to discuss their division of property as a business transaction.  Here, the couple seems more emotionally raw.  Finally, the human side of divorce is represented in this “reality.”

We find out that Kelly has initiated the divorce due to ex-marine Tim’s change in behavior since returning from a tour of duty.  He came back suffering from PTSD and has had significant anger issues and behavioral outbursts.  Tim makes a statement in the initial consultation that something like 1 of the 30 couples from his platoon are still together.  Staggering.

The parties have mostly divided up their assets but there are a few items still at issue:

  • a house in Chicago
  • Kelly’s designer shoe collection
  • antique swords
  • Tim’s pension

The Consultation

The couple estimates that the purchase price for the Shoe collection was $25,000 (that’s a lot of red bottoms!).  Tim obviously does not want the shoes themseles, but he wants some portion of their value since it was a large investment.  Kelly, as a self-respecting woman, wants the shoes she takes a lot of pride in.  She does not think that Tim should get any value from them because they were mostly purchased as “I’m sorry” gifts when Tim behaved badly.  Vikki makes a cute quip about loving the shoes herself and that she is taking note of why the shoes were purchased.

Next up on the chopping block (no pun intended) are three antique swords that the couple bought while traveling. The purchase price was only $137, but both are hopeful that they will be worth much more. Tim really wants these swords as they represent an interest of his and he says he found them. Kelly could clearly care less but is asking for half the value because Tim is asking for half the shoes’ value.

*Note: asking for something tit-for-tat is a sure way to bust of a negotiation.  It not only sets a negative tone, but it distracts from what you really want and prolongs reaching an agreement.

blade is most important. One made but had one was military. Can range from 1000-12000

The House- The couple purchased the home for $400k and it has $135k of equity in it.  There are currenty renters in the home and neither party wants to live there.  Tim has made a proposal that Kelly can keep all of the equity in the home if he can keep all of his pension (something he clearly covets).  Kelly is wary of this and wants half of the equity in the home and half of the pension.  Her reasoning is that she stood by him through a very tough career and tours of duty so she should reap some of what he saved.  She has the survivor benefits right now but he won’t guarantee that she will always be the beneficiary.

*Note: just because you get divorced, does not mean that you spouse is removed as beneficiary from an insurance policy or pension.  You have to make that change yourself.  If you don’t and you remarry, it could be awkward for your current spouse.

The Appraisal

The Millae brothers are quick to point out that fair market value is usually the standard measuring stick when it comes to divorce appraisals.  This easily applies to Kelly’s shoe collection.  Despite the fact that they were probably purchased for between $500-$1,000 each, the shoes have depreciated in value due to wear and tear.  They are appraised at $4,500.

The swords end up being a really great return on investment.  Due to their good condition they cash in at $4,000 for all three.

The home had already been appraised at $400,000 and the amount in the pension speaks for itself.

*Note: hiring an independent real estate appraiser is always smart.  You will get valuable information from a non-biased third party.  Typically you will also get a full report out of the assessment as well which is useful for not only the divorce but also future sale.

The Mediation

This was the first mediation where Vikki was worried that some emotion or anger was about to come out.  She took the human approach and asked them to take a deep breath before beginning.  (attorneys often get right down to business, forgetting that this is not just a transaction but people’s lives- so kudos Vikki!)

Ultimately the breakdown came out like this:

  • Shoe collection went to Kelly- No credit to Tim because of his bad behavior.  Despite the fact that gifts during the marriage can be considered marital property subject to division, there are some exceptions and Vikki invoked on here to “punish” Tim a bit for his bad behavior
  • The swords went to Tim but with half the value credit to Kelly.  Tim makes a comment that Kelly had forgotten about the swords and he shouldln’t have reminded her.  This slightly touches on the notion of hidden assets.  Vikki notes that just as parties will benefit from good investments they have to share in bad ones, too.
  • 100% of the equity in the home went to Kelly and 100% of the pension remained with Tim.  Vikki notes that she made this decision based on their similar value.  Yet, she added a recommendation that Kelly remain the survivor beneficiary as compensation for “time served.”  Noting that the breakdown of the marriage was mostly if not all his fauly, Tim falls on his sword (ha!) and says he knows he has to keep her on as beneficiary.

The parties ultimately agree, shake hands and go forward to work on themselves before finding another relationship.

Overall, Vikki made a pretty solid recommendation.  While I do not believe in being punative with awards or division of assets, the decisions here were made with strong supporting policy.  Parties often want what is “fair” and if that can be achieved by reaching a creating property division result, all the better.