Household contents in divorce – who gets the “Stuff”?

Working out who gets what from the family home in a divorce can be very difficult. It is an area of family law that is rather poorly developed despite it being an issue in almost every case.

The division of the household contents can become highly charged, leading to an escalation in conflict and costs.

Arguments are had about who paid for what or which items belong to which partner.

Frustration then flares up and people resort to self help – where they take it upon themselves to remove items that they think belong to them or give them away, sell or damage items belonging to the other person.

Will the divorce courts help us to decide who gets what?

The problem is made worse because the divorce and family courts will very rarely get involved in sharing household contents. That often comes as a surprise to separating couples. We are brought up believing that the courts are there to decide when people can not decide for themselves.

The reality is that judges are very reluctant to get drawn into arguments about household contents, even including pets. Their reasons for doing so are sound but are no less difficult to accept. For divorcing couples it comes as a shock to learn that the court will not step in and provide an answer to these difficult questions.

The courts will say that the value of the contents will be very limited – only a second hand value will be relevant for most contents. Judges and family law specialists alike know that the legal costs incurred in arguing over household goods and furniture will usually exceed what it would cost to simply go and buy a replacement item.

The problem with this logic is that it is not the same logic as that being applied by the divorcing husbands or wives. For those going through divorce, arguments over contents are often as much about who is right and who is wrong.

How can we sort out contents?

  1. Be realistic about the value of the items concerned.
  2. Prepare a list of items before you leave.
  3. Identify which items you would like.
  4. Ask your partner to identify which ones they want.
  5. If there is no contest over certain items then agree a time and date when they will be collected.
  6. For disputed valuable items consider using mediation.
  7. Consider appointing an arbitrator specifically to hear arguments and give you a decision – called an award – relating to the division of valuable contents.
  8. For non valuable items that remain in dispute consider the following approaches;
    1. Compile a list of the disputed items and take it in turns to choose one item each. Simply toss a coin to see who goes first.
    2. Alternatively, each of you takes a copy of the agreed list of items in dispute. Imagine that you each have 100 points and then allocate your 100 points between the items on the list. If there was something that you really want then you would attribute it more of your 100 points than you would give to a less important item. Whoever has allocated most points to any one item takes that item. Beware that you do not over-commit to only one or two items that might then leave you with not enough points to put against other items. This process can be really good for getting people to focus on which items are really important to them
    3. If you really cannot agree on items then speak to a local auctioneer regarding auctioning off the disputed items. Both of you can then join other people in bidding for the items and you jointly split any proceeds of sale. This should always be a last resort given the costs and complexity involved.

What can I do if the other person has removed what I wanted?

It can be very difficult to recover items once they are removed. If they are of low commercial value then it is unlikely that a judge is going to want to get involved.

Does that mean that you should remove items yourself in a pre-emptive fashion?

Most experienced divorce solicitors would say that they could not advise you to do that because we know how provocative such self-help actions are. The problem you have to weigh up is this; If I do not remove an item that I would not want to go missing, and it does then go missing, will I be kicking myself that I did not protect it?

We cannot and will not advise you to “Get in there first.”

Whether you take our advice or not is, of course, your responsibility entirely. Make sure, however, that if you do move items that they are kept safe and undamaged so they can be returned if there is a dispute or agreed settlement later on.

Can you give me more specific advice relating to household contents on divorce?

If you would like to consider these difficult matters more carefully then please do not hesitate to get in touch with one of our experienced divorce solicitors here at Lincoln based Diane Genders specialist family solicitors. You can call us on 01522 516500 or email us by CLICKING HERE