Court Cases & Orders

Valuing the Assets of the Rich – What’s the Re-Sale Value of a “Trip to Space”?

Written by Russell Alexander ria@russellalexander.com / (905) 655-6335

Valuing the Assets of the Rich – What’s the Re-Sale Value of a “Trip to Space”?

As we have been discussing in prior articles, wealthy couples who divorce have unique concerns and legal issues.

Among them is the fact that their accumulation of assets, luxury goods, and colossal-sized custom homes may have a niche re-sale market, when it comes time to liquidate and free up funds in satisfaction of an equalization payment or lump-sum spousal or child support payment. Plus, these kinds of high-end indulgences may be difficult to put a monetary value on, in the first place.

An example of this is found in the 2011 divorce case of Gibson v. Gibson which involved spouses who, in the court’s words, lived a “lavish lifestyle that an income of over $1 million could not support”. This only got worse when the marriage hit the rocks; the court began the judgment with these words:

[The husband] feared financial ruin.  So he put money out of his wife’s reach.  Then he bought a ticket for a flight into space. Cost: $218,700.

[The husband] feared financial ruin.  So he started spending on himself.  Then he took a trip to Arizona, trips around the world and a trip to Las Vegas.  Cost: $100,000.00.

While married, the couple had collections of expensive paintings and artefacts, antique dolls, and other items – mostly purchased and curated by the husband.  When it came time to value many these items for their respective Net Family Property amounts after their split, the husband strove to come up with low figures in his tally, whereas the wife was motivated to value them at their highest.

The court’s ruling on just a single painting owned by the former couple illustrates the detailed nature of these kinds of valuation disputes – and the kind of expert evidence that is sometimes needed before the court can resolve them mathematically. The court wrote:

(vi) Dominic Serres Painting “Battle of Quiberon Bay”

A significant point of contention between the parties is the value of the Dominic Serres painting, Battle of Quiberon Bay. This work of art was painted by Peter’s ancestor in 1766. Dominic Serres was a marine painter to King George III and a founding member of the Royal Academy of Artists. The painting is of a major British naval victory and is considered important to British naval history.

Peter purchased the painting for approximately $100,000 in around 1998. In an earlier NFP statement, he estimated its value at $150,000. During his questioning held on April 30, 2008, Peter testified that he thought the painting might be worth $170,000. In his evidence at trial and in his most recent NFP statement, Peter placed the value at $100,000.

The wife called a qualified independent art expert and curator who valued the piece as having a replacement value of $200,000, based on what she concluded was the fair market value.  While admitting that art valuation was not an exact science, she based her opinion on another sale of a Serres painting, and the advice of experts at Sotheby’s and Christie’s Auction Houses.

The court explained the husband’s response:

[The husband] took great issue with [the expert’s] opinion of value. He argued it could not be accepted because [she] did not climb on a ladder to see the top of this large painting, estimated to be five feet by eight feet. In addition, although [she] noted that the sky area of the painting had a lot of “over-painting”, she did not use a black light to see the restoration work that had been completed.

[The expert’s] evidence was that she was aware of the restoration work and she had seen one of the three or four tears that Peter’s close-up photographs disclosed. Her opinion was that a tear does not affect the value of a painting such as this.

I reject Peter’s assessment that the value of the painting on separation was $100,000. There is nothing to support such a low valuation. … In addition, I accept [the expert’s] opinion that a tear does not affect the value of a painting with such great historical significance.

With that said, the court declined to attribute to the painting a value that was the highest price that it would bring on an open and unrestricted buyer and seller (which was the standard that the expert used).  Nor was it appropriate to use the insurance replacement cost.  Instead, the court assessed the value at $175,000, noting that at one point the husband himself said he thought the painting might be worth $170,000.

As for the purchased Ticket to Space:  The court did not need to value it, since the husband bought it after the date of separation.  However – at the court’s suggestion – he sold it for  $175,712.00, as a means of remedying his pre-trial cash flow problem.  Among other things, this allowed him to pay $70,000 to the Family Responsibility Office (to reduce his arrears of support to nearly $40,000), plus $20,000 in legal fees, another $20,000 in private school fees, and $17,000 for the prepayment of the BMW leases for himself and one of the daughters of the marriage.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Gibson v. Gibson, 2011 ONSC 4406 (CanLII),

Related appeal Gibson v. Gibson, 2016 ONCA 545 (CanLII)

 

 

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the founder of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers and is the firm’s senior partner. At Russell Alexander, our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues, including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. We have locations in Toronto, Markham, Whitby (Brooklin), Oshawa, Concord, Lindsay, and Peterborough.

For more information, visit our website, or you can call us at: 905-655-6335.