By Adam T. Kronfeld of Duff & Kronfeld, P.C. posted in Family Law on Friday, December 14, 2018.
An often overlooked aspect of property division in divorce is the division of personal property, such as furniture, and furnishings, artwork, decorations, appliances, personal effects, collectibles, etc. People have a tendency to focus more upon more valuable and significant assets, such as real estate and retirements, that personal property is ignored until almost the end of the divorce process, when they are finalizing a settlement agreement or preparing for the equitable distribution trial. Unlike “larger” assets, personal property can be very tedious to deal with; after all, who wants to argue over pots and pans? However, dealing effectively with personal property early on can save a lot of last-minute hassle and conflict.
Strategies for dividing personal property include the following:
- Appraise any expensive/valuable property, such as collectibles, jewelry and antiques so that they can be give specific values and not subject to arbitrary valuations by each party.
- Recognize that most property will be worth substantially less than you paid for it. That sectional might have cost $3,000, but after five years of spills, kids and pets it will have depreciated significantly. Rule of thumb: property is what a willing buyer will pay a willing seller, so what would you pay a stranger for a five year old couch with frayed upholstery and a faint odor of dog?
- Identify early on what you don’t need or can live without. Don’t try to keep something on “principle,” just because you know that your spouse wants it. Remember, you may end up living someplace new after the divorce and on a single income. Do you really want to pay to move and store old furniture or a DVD collection, only to have to abandon or discard it six months later?
- Once you and your spouse have identified what you each want and don’t want, determine how much overlap there really is. If there are items that neither of you wants, consider a yard sale or estate sale (if substantial enough), or donating it to a charitable organization. If you can be compensated for property neither wants, that can help with the costs involved in divorce and relocation.
- If you are at an impasse as to certain property, consider having a mediator or arbitrator resolve the dispute, rather than lawyers. Splitting the cost of a few hours of a neutral mediator or arbitrator’s time may be much more cost effective in view of the value of personal property than each of you paying your lawyers to argue over items that you can replace for the equivalent of three or four hours of your attorney’s hourly charges.
- In a worst case scenario, if none of the above is successful, then the Court will rule on the issue, albeit with what will probably be significant frustration. There is a famous picture which you can find online, of a divorcing couple in the 1990s being required by their judge to take turns drawing from their collection of Beanie Babies piled on the courtroom floor. While that was an extreme situation, imagine having, to justify why you specifically need the slow cooker or Xbox and coming up with a realistic fair market value for each, all while paying your lawyer to sit next to you throughout the exercise. Further, imagine how unwillingness to “let go” of a minor issue may hurt the Court’s perception of you in dealing with much bigger issues, like dividing the house or establishing a custody schedule.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss your legal matter with an attorney, please contact Duff & Kronfeld, P.C. at (703) 591-7475 for a complementary, 30-minute consultation.