When initiating a divorce, I find that most clients expect they will have to divide their larger items of property, such as bank accounts, retirement accounts, and real estate, and that issues may arise in dividing these types of assets. However, many of my clients are caught off-guard when issues arise dividing the items of personal property such as furniture, artwork, yard tools, holiday decorations, and various collectibles and other knick knacks accumulated throughout the marriage. I find that many clients assume they will be entitled to certain things, or that their spouse simply won't want certain things. Unfortunately, that is not always the case and it is common for issues to arise in dividing the personal property.
When it comes to personal property, it is typically a given that both parties will get to keep their own personal effects such as their clothing, jewelry, wallets, purses, etc. This is not necessarily what the law provides, but is usually how it ends up in practice. However, personal property outside of personal effects collected throughout your marriage is marital property just like anything else. As a result, these items of personal property must be divided between the parties equitably. Although many of my clients assume this won't be an issue, many items of personal property carry sentimental value and can be coveted by both parties. If both parties end up wanting the same item of personal property, they must either (1) decide among themselves who will get to keep it, or (2) have the court decide who gets to keep it. I always encourage the parties to try to work out their differences regarding personal property between themselves for one simple reason: the court does not care what happens to your stuff.
Although this may seem blunt, the Court does not have the time or the resources to divide every last piece of personal property accumulated by the parties throughout their marriage. As a result, I find that many judges will consider fights over smaller items of personal property “petty” and this kind of trivial fighting can have a negative impact on the case. Rather than fight about who gets the downstairs TV or the kitchen table in court, it is best to utilize a method whereby the parties each take their respective items that are not in dispute, and any disputed items are divided fairly between the parties, such that they each walk away with some of the disputed items. This method can be as simple as flipping a coin, or using a system whereby one person gets to pick an item, then the next person gets to pick an item, and so on and so forth. Although you may not end up with everything you want, if both parties agree to the method of division, the division is at least fair.
That is not to say that all issues involving personal property are frivolous and petty. For instance, if a party ransacks the marital home and takes all of the parties' personal property, I would consider this actionable and would advise the other party to file a motion. The question then becomes, is the cost of filing a motion to have the items returned worth the value of those items, whether the value monetary, sentimental, or both? For many people, it would be, and I don't blame them. Both parties have an interest in and right to that property; it simply wouldn't be equitable for one party to walk away with all of the stuff and the other to walk away with nothing. If you are having an issue with personal property in your divorce and would like some help, feel free to contact our office for your free consultation!