Dividing Personal Property During Your Divorce

A year from now the way you divided personal property in your divorce probably won’t matter to you.   However, that isn’t much comfort right now when you need to separate households and furnish a new residence.  Here are a few of the most common questions about dividing personal property:

How do we value personal property?

For the most part people do not assign values to personal property in the divorce.  To the extent you are going to value personal property, the standard approach is to look at what the same thing would sell for on Craigslist.  That usually doesn’t seem fair to one or both people, but that is the usual approach.  Of course, the two of you can agree to whatever valuation you want to.

What about more valuable items, collections, etc.?

If you have a more valuable item, such as original artwork, antique china, a coin collection, etc., it may make sense to have it appraised by someone specializing in that particular category.  You can usually find someone who can do this for a reasonable flat fee.

What do we do about the cars?

There are two different approaches people usually taken when dealing with vehicles.  One approach is to just say “let’s each keep our own”.  If your vehicles are similar in value (similar is subjective, of course), then this approach is probably the easiest thing to do.  On the other hand, if there is a significant difference in value, then you may want to account for the difference in value.  The standard approach to valuing vehicles is to go to Kelly Blue Book and get a valuation based on “private party, good” value.  For example, if one person’s car is worth $5,000 and the other person’s car is worth $25,000, then under this approach the person with the more valuable car might owe the other person $10,000 so that they both end up with $15,000 in value.

How do we handle jewelry?

Generally speaking, jewelry is considered to be the separate property of the person who it was given to.  One exception to this is if there was an agreement (that you can prove) that the jewelry would be returned to the person who gave it in the event of divorce.  A different approach that people will sometimes take is to sell jewelry and apply it to a joint debt.  For the most part jewelry isn’t worth nearly what someone paid for it.

So…how do we actually divide the property between us?

For the most part people are able to simply agree on the division of most of the household items between them.  If someone brought something into the marriage they will typically keep those items.  If personal property was inherited from someone’s family, they will usually keep that as well.  They will usually keep their own clothes and personal effects.  If there are “sets” of furniture, one person will usually keep one set and someone will keep a different set.  For example, one person might keep the dining set and one person might keep the bedroom set.  If certain items remain in dispute, then they can be sold and divided, or perhaps a trade can be agreed upon (e.g., you keep the Vitamix and the other person keeps the Kitchenaid).  If disagreements still remain, those disagreements can be addressed in mediation.

The other person received way more value in terms of the personal property and it doesn’t seem fair to me.  What now?

Sometimes when one person is keeping most of the personal property (usually the person staying in the home), people will agree that the divorce is a family issue and therefore family resources will be used to help furnish a new residence.  A different approach is to agree that the person not receiving the personal property will receive some “offset” somewhere else.  For example, if someone is taking most of the personal property, maybe they take slightly more debt.

What do we do about family photos, the kids’ paintings, etc.?

Sentimental family items are usually evenly divided between you.  Often what people will do with photos is to have each person take half of the original photos and then make a copy of the photos for the other person.  Now that most photos are digital this is less of an issue.