When a couple decides to separate, there are many logistical issues to resolve. One of these is how to fairly divide the “stuff” that they have accumulated during the course of their relationship.
The starting point in these negotiations is to look at what each party brought into the relationship when cohabitation began. This is more easily done in short term relationships. For parties who have been together for a long time, most of the furniture, vehicles, etc. that they brought into the relationship have been replaced over the years.
We also look at actual ownership. If, for example, a car is registered in the husband’s name, he is usually entitled to keep it. If the wife has a receipt showing she purchased the snow blower using her own funds, it is usually hers. Be warned: ownership is not the end of the story. Although one person may have purchased an item with his/her own funds, if it was used for the family’s benefit, it is basically treated as a joint asset.
There are other difficulties. For example, most people do not anticipate a breakdown in their relationship and do not keep receipts with the expectation that they will one day use them to prove ownership. Further, in many families, the parties operate from a single joint account which makes it virtually impossible to determine who purchased what; the court will not engage in a forensic accounting of all purchases made throughout the years.
Proof of receiving an item as a gift will also establish ownership. This is problematic as well as most people do not attach a signed document attesting that the item in the gift box is, in fact, a gift. Things like wedding rings are easily determined, but that $600 Dyson vacuum cleaner the wife received for Mother’s Day can be more difficult to prove (pro tip: do not buy your wife any sort of cleaning supply for Mother’s Day unless she has specifically requested it).
In short, dividing the household contents can be difficult. In some instances couples will flip a coin with the winner getting to have the first choice of items. They then alternate picks until all that’s left is the can opener that doesn’t work properly. I have heard of lawyers getting one party to write up two lists with half of the contents on each. The other party then gets to choose which list of items he/she gets to have. There is definitely room for creativity here.
There are a few things to keep in mind if you are faced with dividing the contents of your home:
- Each party should walk away with roughly half of the current market value of the contents (not the replacement value or the purchase cost);
- At the end of the day, most belongings can be replaced. Don’t waste precious energy arguing about a set of tea towels to win an argument on principle.
- Try your best to resolve this particular issue with your ex as best as you can; involving lawyers in content disputes often costs far more than you stand to gain.