Divorce Dividing Personal Property

Even in contested cases that a judge has to decide, most parties manage to decide between themselves how to divide the relatively small items of personal property. Nonetheless, the phrase “they battled down to who got the last teaspoon” reflects the intensity of emotion that can come with divorce. 

Even couples who are relatively amicable when splitting up usually manage to find a few property pieces for fighting over. The individual piece of property often is not truly important by itself, but it comes to represent the frustrations of a relationship that has failed. Perhaps it is easier to obtain an emotional release from fighting over some object than focusing on the underlying personal characteristics that caused the marriage to end. 

If the parties truly cannot resolve a dispute over personal property, a judge can do it for them, but that normally is not a cost-effective way to resolve the issue. If the judge does have to resolve the dispute, the judge will consider the same factors discussed earlier in the section on dividing marital or community property.  The judge may also consider who acquired the property, who uses the property, and whether the property has a special connection to the original family of one spouse. 

If the wife and husband are having difficulty dividing personal property, they might try some techniques that other couples have used. 

The spouses together can prepare a list of all the property in dispute. One spouse can take that list and divide it into two separate lists. Then the other spouse can choose which of the two lists to take as his or her property. Presumably, the spouse who drew up the two lists will have an incentive to prepare an equal property division. This arrangement is a variation in how parents often encourage children to divide a disputed candy bar: Have one child divide the candy bar and let the other child choose which piece to take. 

Another option is to use a single list of the disputed property. By a flip of a coin or other method, one spouse chooses the first piece of property; then the other chooses; back and forth it goes until all the property is divided. A variation on this approach would be to have a series of lists from which the spouses take turns, one list at a time. The lists might be categorized by the economic value or sentimental value of the items on each list. 

Another somewhat elaborate approach could be used if the parties decide on an unequal property division but have not decided how to allocate the property. This approach also can be used for equal divisions of property. Again, the parties draw up a list of the disputed property. Then they must agree on the value of each item of property and post the value next to the item. The parties take turns selecting items of property. When either the husband or the wife has reached his or her designated quota (for example, 65 percent of the property as determined by the agreed values), the other party receives the rest of the property. 

If the husband and wife have difficulty agreeing on the value of the personal property, they might hire a neutral property appraiser to set the property’s values. Appraisers often can be found in the Yellow Pages under “Appraisers” or “Estate Sales.” 

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