WHEN IN DOUBT, LIST IT OUT:  Why Your Divorce Decree Should Specifically List Out All Major Assets and Debts

Category: Family Law

Divorce Inventory Worksheet.

As an Arizona State Bar Certified Specialist in family law matters in Arizona, I often am asked by client whether their assets or debts need to be itemized in the final divorce decree.  Generally, it is better to list out larger assets or debts to avoid potential problems down the road.  When in doubt, list it.

For example, sometimes couples are divorcing, and never shared bank accounts.  In such cases, a party may feel that they need not list out financial accounts because both parties “know” which accounts are “his” and which accounts are “hers.”  The problem is that while the parties never put each other’s names on each other’s accounts, Arizona is still a community property state, and money earned during the marriage, even if put into a separate account, is generally community property.  As such, legally there is some question as to whom the accounts (or funds in the account) belong to.

By listing the account out specifically, this removes any doubt or question and avoids confusion or litigation down the road by one party claiming that the asset was omitted and not properly divided.

Similarly, the parties may have a prenuptial agreement that states that there is no community property.  Nonetheless, a proper decree should itemize out what major assets and debts each party is keeping.  Items owned by either party prior to the marriage may be easier to ascertain and divide, but these should nonetheless be listed.   Items purchased during the marriage should especially be listed, as there may be some dispute later as to which party purchased or paid for the item, or whether it was a gift to the other party.  By listing out each asset, later misunderstandings and conflict can be avoided.

Parties need not list out every fork or spatula in the drawer, as attorneys are expensive and paying to itemize every nickel and dime may be overkill.  However, as a general rule, anything valued at more than a few hundred dollars should be listed and identified. This includes televisions, furniture, large appliances, bank accounts, and of course real estate, vehicles, and retirement accounts.

Do not assume that you will both “know” what is his and what is hers.  Remember, there is a reason that the two of you are getting a divorce.  Often, one of the top reasons is that the two of you have difficulties communicating (this may be the cause, or may be the effect from other causes).  Please understand that often this difficulty communicating will cause both parties to assume that a specific item is his/hers, causing a conflict.

Trust your attorney, and work with your attorney to list out all major assets and debts, even those you had before the marriage, even those that you are sure the other side will not argue about, and even those worth only a few hundred dollars.

If a conflict arises, and the final decree clearly says that Husband gets the black Lazy Boy sofa, and Wife gets the red love seat, there will be no room for error or dispute.  While it may seem time consuming and tedious to list things out, the time and effort is well worth it in saving you expensive post-decree fights over what was intended when the parties agreed that “each party will receive 50% of the household items” or some similar ambiguous statement.

If you are involved in a divorce, legal separation, or annulment case or other family law case, and if you have determined that you need experienced legal representation, please call 480 733-6800 and ask to speak with Douglas C. Gardner, or visit our website at: