What About the Personal Property?

We are often asked how the court goes about dividing personal property, and how detailed a person should be in outlining the personal property.  As with all property acquired during the marriage, the first presumption is that personal property belongs equally to the spouses and should be equally divided. 

First, address items that may not have any monetary value, but have enormous personal significance.  This most often comes up with photographs, memorabilia from children, and holiday decorations.  When it is possible to copy such items so that each spouse has a complete copy, this should be done.  Otherwise, the fairest approach is to equally divide these items.

            Personal property with a financial value also must be addressed.  Some ways to go about dividing the personal property without having to determine the value of those items is to have the spouses alternate picking items, with the first pick to be determined by the flip of a coin.  Another alternative is to instruct one spouse to make two lists that separate all of the property.  The second spouse then picks between the two lists and retains the property outlined on the selected list.  This method gives some incentive to the first spouse creating the list to be fair in outlining the division, since the second spouse would pick a list that has the greater value.

There may be items that need to be valued so that one spouse can receive the appropriate compensation.  The court considers the value of personal property to be the resale value at the time of the divorce, and not the purchase value at the time that the item was acquired.  An appraisal may be necessary.  An internet search may also reveal at what price comparable items are selling.

If the spouses cannot resolve the division of personal property or the value of that property, it may be necessary to involve a judge.  First, be sure that the item is worth sufficient money so that litigating regarding the item makes sense.  The judge can order that one party will retain a disputed item at a certain price, and order an equalization payment if one spouse is receiving more than half of the value of the property.  The judge can also require the disputed property to be sold, with the proceeds to be divided between the parties.  If the spouses do not cooperate sufficiently well to manage a sale together, it is possible to hire a liquidation company to facilitate the sale of marital property.

Don’t hesitate to contact McNorton Fox PLLC if you need advice about how best to manage the personal property division in your case.

-Erin Fox