The high-profile contentious divorce of Kevin Costner and Christine Baumgartner has highlighted the issues that dividing the contents of the matrimonial home can cause. Reports state that a Superior Court Judge in California has blocked Christine from removing certain items from the family home and she has been penalised for only producing a ‘vague and ambiguous’ list of items that she had hoped to keep.
Will the Court decide for us in the UK?
Generally, it is the opinion of the Court that parties should be able to resolve conflict over who will retain which household items by themselves. Judges do not tend to involve themselves in such discussions as the costs of doing so tend to outweigh the value of item that is being argued over. Judges are not keen on making these decisions and will try to influence parties to have amicable discussions and negotiate between themselves instead, usually equally.
However, there may be some exceptions to the rule where a party has received a specific item as a gift from a family member, or it is an item that was acquired pre-marriage. In addition, some items may hold more emotional significance than others, for example a family heirloom or an item which evokes happy memories.
In the current climate, with the high rise in the cost of living, it is understandable that parties may wish to hold onto certain household items rather than having to re-buy them if relocating to a different property. However, at such a time it is important to be realistic about the value of the item. All household items are second hand and therefore the likely value will not be substantial. Consideration must therefore be given to the costs of ongoing discussions through solicitors in comparison to the costs of replacing the items.
How to deal with the decision amicably?
First of all, it is helpful to have a list of all of the relevant household items that are in dispute. As the Costner case demonstrates, it is highly important that this list is specific, and each item can be easily identified by its description. It may be useful to take pictures of each item to ensure clarity.
If possible, both parties should then sit down together and discuss which items they would like to keep and their reasoning behind it. It is important to be open-minded throughout this process and be willing to compromise, some items that you do not value may hold great sentimental importance to your spouse and vice versa. If having done so, you still cannot reach agreement, it may be useful to attend mediation to continue the discussions with an impartial third party who can ensure the situation remains amicable.Heidi Kavanagh, Paralegal at Sinclair Law Solicitors
Can I just take what I want?
It is not advisable for you to remove items from the property without making your spouse aware beforehand. This is likely to only inflame the situation and be counterproductive for the financial process going forwards. Instead, you should provide them with reasonable notice that you will be attending the property and provide an itemised list of what you intend to remove.
If you need advice about dividing the contents of your marital home then contact one of our family law experts today. Our skilled team are able to provide guidance and assistance in this area.
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