November 12, 2009

How to divide personal property in a divorce

The division of personal property in a divorce can be one of the most expensive, emotional, and wasteful parts of a case.  Parties will often spend thousands of dollars arguing over a very inexpensive piece of personal property. 

Personal property, meaning furniture, art, family photos, pets, and other general property, in a divorce is treated no differently than the division of other assets.  A dollar value figure is placed on the property and the allocation of property is dealt with as part of the general division of assets and debts.  For example, if all of the personal property is worth $20,000 and one party takes all of it, they would owe the other party $10,000 as either a cash payment or out of the division of some other asset or by taking on a similar amount of debt.

The better way to deal with the division is for the parties to agree on who takes what piece of furniture and not assign a dollar figure to anything.  This can be more complicated with valuable artwork.  Family photos are generally given to one party with the other party having an option to make copies.

If there is a clear dispute over which property each party wants, the easiest method is to have the personal property appraised.  The appraiser will make a list of all property and assign dollar values to each piece and then the judge can make a determination of how it is divided. 

Some property is not included as a marital asset.  Generally this happens with jewelry or other clear gifts that were intended to be given to the other party and not shared.  In that case, there will be no offset and the property will go to the party whom received the gift.  One example is that a wedding ring always stays with the party who received it.