In the case of Rokowski and Rokowski, (decided July 23, 2015) the New Hampshire Supreme Court cautioned that a Court cannot conduct its own research in ascertaining the value of marital property.
In the Rokowski case, one of the issues was the value of the marital home. Neither party at trial offered an appraisal which would show the fair market value of the property. On its own initiative, the trial court used online research to determine the fair market value of the property.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court categorically rejected this approach, stating “it is axiomatic that a trial court cannot go outside of the evidentiary record, except as to matters that are judicially noticed.” Internet research using the website “Zillow” which only provides an estimate of a property’s fair market value is not a fact that is readily established or subject to judicial notice, which are the only facts a court can consider at trial.
Therefore, in preparing a case for trial, parties must introduce their own evidence to establish the values of marital assets and cannot expect a trial court to do the work for them. If the asset is significant, like a home or a business, it may be well worth money to have a formal appraisal done so that an accurate value can be introduced at trial.
Andrew J. Piela is a Director at Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A. Mr. Piela concentrates his practice in civil litigation, family law, probate and land use litigation. You can reach Attorney Piela by e-mail at [email protected].