Figuring out and agreeing who gets what ‘stuff’ from the family home during a divorce is often very difficult. It is an area of family law that is less developed despite it being a big bone of contention in nearly every divorce case.
The division of the household ‘stuff’ can become very emotional and stressful, leading to an escalation in personal conflict and legal costs.
Disputes are often about who paid for what or which items belong to which person. Stress and tempers often then flare up and people sometimes resort to ‘helping themselves’; where they take it upon themselves to take items that they believe belong to them, give them away, sell or damage belongings that they know belong to the other person.
Will the divorce courts help us to decide who gets what?
The law has very little to say specifically about the division of household contents and personal belongings during a divorce settlement.
The general legal principle is that any assets which have been acquired or built up during the marriage should be put in the matrimonial money pot and divided up fairly.
In practice, most household items will be comparatively low value, due to being second hand, and will therefore have little bearing on the overall matrimonial money pot, particularly if there is a matrimonial home or other property.
Therefore, it is usually not worth the legal costs that would be incurred in disputes over household goods and furniture; they will usually exceed what it would cost to simply go and buy a replacement item.
Therefore, Judges are highly reluctant to get drawn into disputes about household contents, including pets.
Deciding who owns what
Decisions about which person owns what is usually left to the divorcing couple to sort out between themselves.
There are no hard and fast laws about ownership of household items within a marriage, but some common ways to decide ownership include:
- Gifts – If one party received a gift personally (e.g., the engagement ring or a birthday present from a relative) they get to keep it. But gifts which were given to the couple jointly (e.g., wedding presents) should be divided equally.
- Preowned items – If one person already owned an item before the marriage, they can keep this item. Any items acquired during the marriage are split equally.
How can you sort out household contents yourselves and avoid arguments?
- Get realistic about the value of the items concerned, they will mostly be second hand, and not the purchase value.
- Make a list of items before you leave.
- Identify which items you would like, do certain items have sentimental value or a family heirloom.
- Ask your partner to identify which ones they want and try to respect their reasons.
- If there is no dispute over some items, then agree a convenient time and date when they can be collected.
- For disputed valuable items these can be incorporated into the wider settlement negotiations
- For items that are non valuable, that you continue to argue over, consider the following approaches:
- Make a list of the disputed items and take turns to choose one item each. Maybe toss a coin to see who goes first.
- Or each person takes a copy of the agreed disputed items list. Imagine that you each have 100 points and then allocate your 100 points between the items on the list. If there was something that you desperately want, then you would allocate it more of your points than you would give to a less wanted item. Whoever has allocated most points to a particular item keeps that item. Be careful though that you do not over allocate your points to only one or two items that might then leave you with not enough points to put against other items. This process can be helpful for couples to focus on which items are important to them, rather than just wanting them to upset the other person.
- If you truly cannot agree then you could put the items in a local auction. Both of you can then join other people in bidding for the items and you jointly split any profits from the auction. This should really be a last resort given the costs and hassle involved.
What can I do if my ex has taken what I wanted to keep?
It can be very difficult get items back once they are removed. If they are of low monetary value, then it is unlikely that a judge is going will get involved.
Should I remove items myself before the divorce process?
Most experienced family law divorce solicitors would not advise you to do that because it can be very provocative. You need to ask yourself – If I do not remove an item that I would not want to go missing, and it does, will I regret not protecting it?
Sinclair Law cannot and will not advise you to “Get in there first and take what you want.”
Whether you take our advice or not is entirely your decision and responsibility. However, ensure that if you do remove items that they are kept secure and undamaged so they can be returned if there is a dispute or agreed settlement later in the process.
Can you give me more specific advice relating to dividing household ‘stuff’?
We can help you consider these difficult issues more carefully. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with one of our experienced divorce solicitors here at Sinclair Law, specialist family law firm.
We can help you with all aspects of family law from children’s living arrangement disputes, financial issues, divorce and separation to pre-nuptial agreements. We also offer a wills and probate service.
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