Fair Value Standard Rejected by Colorado Supreme Court

The Colorado Supreme Court, in Marriage of Thornhill (June 1, 2010), held that it would not mandate the “fair value” standard for valuation of business in divorce proceedings. The husband in Thornhill operated an oil and gas service company that was valued at $1.625 million after applying a 33% marketability discount as part of an FMV valuation for divorce purposes. The wife argued on appeal that the marketability discount should not be applied, citing a Colorado precedent in which marketability discounts were prohibited in minority shareholder oppression cases. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s refusal to prohibit marketability discounts in divorce cases. The Supreme Court noted that the “fair value” standard was required under the state’s shareholder oppression statute but not under the state’s divorce statute.

This decision contains a good explanation of the reasons why “fair value” is not necessarily appropriate to divorce cases. The wife argued that divorce cases are similar to shareholder oppression cases because a divorce involves an involuntary divestiture of a party’s interest in the business. The Colorado Supreme Court explained that valuation discounts are prohibited in shareholder oppression cases to discourage majority shareholders from engaging in oppressive behavior. In other words, the prohibition of marketability discounts in shareholder oppression cases forces the majority shareholders to pay more than fair market value as a penalty for their conduct. Imposing the fair value standard in divorce cases would not serve the same purpose.

The Colorado Supreme Court did not go as far as prohibiting the fair value standard in divorce cases. Instead, the court held that marketability discounts must be considered on a case-by-case basis. It is conceivable, under certain circumstances, that marketability discounts might not be applied in divorce cases. It would not be appropriate, however, to impose the fair value standard in every divorce.

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