One of the most dreaded aspects of divorce from a client’s point of view may be in completing the inventory and appraisement.
The “I&A” is a sworn statement of all the assets and liabilities owned by the community estate or either party to a suit. The filing of an inventory by each party prior to trial is mandatory in Galveston and Harris counties, (where the author practices family law) and likely in most other counties in Texas. The I&A is the blueprint upon which the property division of a divorce is built . It is also the basis of any detailed mediation or negotiations in which property is an issue- the parties will use the inventories to divide the property. The document is a complete listing of not only the property, but what the parties think the value of the property is. It is also an impeachable document in any adversarial hearing.
For these reasons, the Inventory and Appraisement is one of the most important pieces of documentary evidence in any divorce- even those with only minor property disputes. The parties must therefore put a lot of careful attention and detail in the inventory. Obtaining account numbers, charge balances and other financial information for the inventory is difficult enough. But for most people, the most intimidating parts of the inventory preparation is trying to catalogue all the “stuff” accumulated over a five, ten, or thirty year marriage.
Most inventories do not require detailing anything with a value of less than a certain dollar amount (it is assumed the parties will divide such property themselves because the cost of litigating over these items is more than the items themselves are worth). However, particularly in medium to high net worth families, there can be considerable assets spread throughout a home, in curio cabinets, in attics and in storage units. Most people do not have a good idea of everything they own, let alone a detailed list and estimated value that is required to prepare an inventory. Some clients are so intimidated by the large task of cataloguing their valuables, that they give up the items in the divorce simply because they don’t have the time or energy to do all the necessary work.
Luckily, help is available through the National Association of Professional Organizers. According the their website at www.napo.net, “A professional organizer enhances the lives of clients by designing systems and processes using organizing principles and by transferring organizing skills. A professional organizer also educates the public on organizing solutions and the resulting benefits. NAPO (pronounced NAY-poh) currently has close to 4,000 members throughout the U.S. and in 8 other countries.” A search of their member database revealed 21 NAPO members in the Houston area.
I recently met one NAPO member, Judson Crowder. Judson, after 9 years working in Hollywood organizing the packing, storage, and retrieval of set pieces (most notably with the show “Everybody Loves Raymond”) has returned to Houston to start his own his service company: Restorganize, LLC. (www.restorganize.com) As part of his services, he organizes and inventories all items in a home or storage unit. If you require your items to be put in a certain place for easy access, Judson will do that. But more importantly for the divorce case, Judson creates a catalogue binder which details all the specifics of your individual pieces of property. The binder includes a color digital picture, category of the item, and any other details needed.
Such a catalogue binder could be an invaluable part of a divorce inventory or otherwise used as evidence for trial or mediation. In a snapshot it allows the judge, mediator or party to see what is being argued over.
Naturally, such services are not warranted in all cases. The costs of this service (which can range between $50 to $100 per hour or more and take one or more full days depending on the volume and location) must be weighed against the value of the items to be inventoried. However, Judson’s and other professional organizers’ services can take the drudgery out of this part of the discovery process in a Texas Divorce. In medium or high asset cases, such services may be the difference in achieving a fair division of the property.