Personal Property in a Divorce: Definition
Personal property is the belongings of an individual, excluding any real estate property or other buildings. Generally includes tangible and intangible assets of an individual. – Black’s Online Law Dictionary, 2nd.
Personal property is effectively everything except real estate. This includes: cars, financial assets, and household goods.
However in a divorce, cars and financial assets are each dealt with individually. They are typically much higher in value than household items, so this makes sense.
“Personal property” in a divorce typically focuses on household items. This is typically everything that’s in the house but not attached to the house.
How Personal Property is Viewed
First off, if a piece of personal property is particularly valuable, spouses can separate it out, like the cars mentioned above. Some other examples include: expensive jewelry, tool sets and equipment, and gun collections.
However, most property in the home has “garage sale value”. In other words, if it were appraised, it would be appraised at “what would it sell for at a garage sale?” Common used household goods just aren’t often worth that much.
Also, courts don’t like dealing with personal property disputes. The items often have minimal value. It can also be labor intensive for the court going line by line of property. Think about how many items are in a home.
Often, if spouses can’t reach an agreement, the court will submit that dispute to arbitration. In that case the parties attend a separate proceeding to argue who should get what personal property.
So, it may seem fair to assign each item a value and then divide. However, in practice this can be more cumbersome than it’s worth. Here are some alternatives.
Reasonable Ways to Divide
Often, when spouses understand how little household goods are worth this can defuse these disputes. In that context, here are some useful methods to resolve personal property disputes:
“What’s Fair?” In this case, the couple can each make a list of what he or she wants. The departing spouse can make a list of the items he or she wants to take. Each uses whatever criteria each spouse values. It can be based on ballpark values, how much each likes the property, or any other criteria. Both spouses may get what’s most important to him or her.
“What does each of us need?” This is the ultimate practical view. One spouse will be moving to a new home. That departing spouse will need to furnish that home. It makes sense for each spouse to figure out what he or she needs in their home. Then, have each spouse get what he or she needs for the new living arrangement.
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