California court considers new rule against double dipping

The husband owned a produce company in California, valued at $5.6 million, ostensibly under the capitalization/excess earnings method. After a marriage of “long duration and substantial standard of living,” the trial court awarded the wife $20,000 per month in spousal support plus half ($2.8 million) of the business. The husband appealed, urging a blanket prohibition against double dipping—i.e., using the same stream of earnings to determine business value/property division and also support.

In Blazer v. Blazer (No. DR 38292, Aug. 25, 2009), the California Court of Appeals discusses the excess earnings method and, in particular, the myriad ways to distinguish personal from enterprise goodwill. It also considers the double-dipping precedent from other jurisdictions as well as its own cases concerning pension divisions. In the end, the court sidesteps the issue by finding insufficient proof that the husband’s expert in fact valued the business by capitalizing his future income stream. Moreover, “the earnings of an ongoing business…do not always derive solely from the personal efforts of its operator, nor is there evidence that such is the case here.” The court explicitly confirmed the equity of the spousal award in this case as well as the trial court’s implicit determination that there was no double counting of the husband’s income.

Thus, the question remains open in California and elsewhere—especially for cases concerning owners of a professional firm or solo practice whose interests are valued under the excess earnings method. Look for a full summary of Blazer and our continuing analysis of double dipping in the November Business Valuation Update™.