Personal Property in a Divorce: Definitions
Before reviewing how personal property in a divorce is divided, let’s look at some terminology.
Personal Property – 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.
The legal definition of personal property is fairly broad. It’s effectively everything except real estate. This includes: cars, financial assets, and household goods.
However in a divorce, usually 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 is usually focused on the 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, it can be separated, like cars mentioned above. Some examples include: expensive jewelry, tool sets and equipment, and gun collections.
However, most property in the home has what’s referred to as “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. Often it has minimal value, as indicated previously. It can also be labor intensive for the Court going line by line of property. Think about how many items are in your home.
Often, if the parties can’t reach an agreement, the Court will submit that dispute to arbitration. So the parties may have to attend a separate proceeding to argue personal property.
So, assigning each item a value and trying to divide them may seem fair. However, in practice, it’s often far more cumbersome than it’s worth. There are some alternatives.
Reasonable Ways to Divide
Often, just understanding how little household goods are typically worth 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 side values. It can be based on ballpark values, how much each likes the property, or any other criteria. This can ultimately lead to both parties’ satisfaction as each decided what to get.
“What does each of us need?” This is the ultimate practical view. One spouse will be moving to a new home. That home needs to be furnished. 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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