When a couple separates, they have to decide how to divide their household property, furniture, and other household items. This applies to both married couples, and those that have lived together.
You can use your mediator, or lawyers, to help you decide how to split family property. However, the cost for a professional’s time may soon outpace the actual value of your property. You can save a lot of money, and stress, if you and your ex-partner can divide the family property yourselves. Here are some things to consider, and some options that have worked for other families.
How To Start
Make a list of the property that needs dividing. There will be four categories of property: Yours, Theirs, Both, and Unwanted.
Separate out the property that you consider to be exclusively yours. Personal items such as clothing, gifts from family or friends, inheritance, belongings that you obtained before you got together. Unwanted items are also easy- they can be donated to charities such as Big Brothers, Diabetes, or Women In Need. Broken or damaged things can be taken to be recycled or to the dump.
Once you’ve made a list of the household belongings, you can prioritize the things you would like to keep. If there are things that you think may be valuable, do some on-line research (such as Ebay, Craigslist, or UsedVictoria.com) to get a rough idea of their value. Alternatively, price out the cost of replacing similar items. For example, you may find that buying new bedroom furniture is not as expensive as fighting over the existing set. Finally, if you have artwork, or collector’s items, consider having them professionally appraised. You might be surprised to find out that comic collection is finally worth something!
Disputed Household Property
For many people, it is the sentimental things that are difficult to divide. This is because they hold precious family memories, or other emotional attachment. Typically this includes things like Christmas ornaments, family photos, or keepsakes for children. Christmas ornaments and keepsakes can be divided, or one person can become the “custodian” of things that will ultimately go to your children. Photos can be copied and stored on a memory stick.
How To Choose Who Gets What Household Property
There are a variety of ways in which you can divide the property you both want:
Negotiate: “I’ll give you these two items, if you let me keep this one” .
Take Turns With The Treasured Item(s): “I’ll use the Christmas ornaments this year, and you can use them next year”.
Take Turns Choosing From A List: “You pick first, then i’ll pick”. A coin toss can help decide who goes first.
Divide Property Into 2 “Piles” of Equal Value: Then, flip a coin to decide who gets to choose their pile first.
Wedding Gifts: Many couples agree to keep the gifts that were given by that spouse’s family or friends.
Children’s Items: Children’s things belong to them. Most of a child’s things can stay with the parent who has them most of the time. In shared parenting situations, let common sense prevail. If one parent has a back yard, let them take the jungle gym. If one parent has a more bike friendly neighbourhood, let them take the bike. Over time, items can be replaced.
Things NOT To Do
- Do not hide assets. This will erode any trust you have with your ex-partner and co-parent. Hiding assets may also put your mediation in jeopardy. Hiding assets will work heavily against you with a Judge, should your case go to trial.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Kitchen items, and other utilitarian things can be replaced. Second hand stores and Thrift shops have good prices for kitchen items in reasonable condition. It will likely not be worth the stress and conflict to fight over items of little economic value.
- Do not involve your children in the discussion about dividing family property.
- Do not risk your safety over conflict about property. Plan a move when the other party is not home, if necessary. Have a friend or family member help you with your move. Remember that your safety comes first, and leave your property behind if you need to.
If You Get Stuck
If you need help with division of Household Property, add it to the agenda of your next mediation. Remember that, when it comes to a dollar figure, you can always financially account for things when you finalize your Separation Agreement.
Jayne Embree, M.A.
Jayne holds a Masters Degree in Psychology and is a highly experienced Divorce Coach and Child Specialist. She is currently Mr. Butterfield’s Legal Assistant and the Mediation Coordinator at Butterfield Law.