Divorce requires clients to make many difficult decisions about parenting children, dividing assets, dividing debts, dividing the house, spousal support, and child support. These are all difficult and emotional. In addition to these significant items, clients should also realize that small personal items may need to be divided as marital assets. These personal items may include pictures, cookware, flatware, china, bedding, beds, and living room furniture. Expensive items that only one client may use may also need to be divided between clients, such as costly televisions, computers, or gaming systems. Unfortunately, decisions about how to divide these issues are often are left to the end of the mediation or collaborative divorce, and there is risk that agreements could be undermined.
For families to come through the divorce as emotionally healthy as possible, clients should work with their mediator and the collaborative team to decide how to divide all the marital assets – including those personal items that may have some sentimental or practical value and should recommend that the clients make these decisions while discussing the marital property. Not at the end of the process.
There are many ways clients can make decisions about who takes what personal property. This includes relying on “do-it-yourself” methods and professional assistance.
Regardless, the first thing the clients need to do is make a complete list of all the personal property to be divided. Clients may want to prepare a spreadsheet, for example, to list all of the items and identify which items each client may wish to and which are in dispute. For example, the spreadsheet could identify:
Item / Value / Requested by (Client 1) / Requested by (Client 2) / Notes / Distributed To.
Next, the clients need to decide how they want to divide the property. The clients should decide which way to divide the property and stick to the process to minimize conflict.
One way to divide items is by need. One or both clients may be moving into new living arrangements. One or both will need to furnish the new homes with either new items or items from the old living arrangements. But the old things that were used for one household will be expected to cover two. If a client takes more than their need, they may be causing unnecessary conflict. Once the property is divided by need, the clients could determine how to divide the remainder or sell the property.
Another option is to allow the clients to choose the personal property they want to keep. One client chooses one item, then the other client. For example, the clients could use different colored sticky tabs to keep identifying which items they chose. This back and forth continues until all the personal property either wants is selected, and the remainder can be disposed of by sale or another method.
Clients could also sell the marital property that neither wants and divide the proceeds. This process ensures that neither client walks away with more than the other, and cash proceeds are equally distributed. However, a marital estate sale is public. In addition, both clients need to find a way to work together or agree on who will sell the property. The clients will need to keep on top of the process to ensure that the sale occurs. Finally, the property is now out of the family once sold.
If the clients cannot work well together or make decisions with their mediator or collaborative team, they may want to consider working with a professional organizer. Many professional organizers may help the clients assess what each needs and wants. The organizer will not decide who takes what but may be able to help guide the process.
Special consideration should be given to items that can legally be duplicated. For example, many companies help clients duplicate family photos or decide which images are most important. Adding these professionals to your team may help alleviate the stress and emotions associated with each client trying to organize and make decisions about personal property individually.
Clients should also remember that personal property is subject to legal distribution as significant property, such as real estate, “just and proper.” Important items, such as artwork or furniture, may need to be professionally appraised to ensure that the property is appropriately divided.
Trying to divide property after a divorce can bring chaos. However, there are ways to avoid the confusion – by deciding on a process and sticking with the process to prevent exacerbating the divorce through additional unneeded emotional conflict.