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Sweating the Small Stuff

Dividing personal property in a divorce.In some cases, dividing the small stuff in a divorce can be at least as costly and time consuming as dealing with the big stuff. People often have an emotional attachment to the small stuff even though the items may not have monetary value.

The small stuff, called "personal property", includes items such as dishes, linens, clothing, knick-knacks, furniture, art, computers, and even the family pets. The personal property divisible during divorce only includes those items purchased during the marriage that are not gifts or inheritance. Items received as a gift, such as jewelry, would be considered the separate property of the person and not subject to division in the divorce.

The first step in dividing the personal property is to make a list of all of the "stuff" the spouses have and assess a value for each item. Usually the value is what the item could actually sell for (like at a garage sale) . Then, the spouses should identify the "stuff" that each person wants. For items desired only by one person, the division should be easy.

If there are items that each person wants, several methods of negotiation can be used. For example, one judge in Collin County often orders the parties to participate in the "coin flip" method. So, one spouse flips the coin, the other spouse "calls it" heads or tails to pick a disputed item on the list. Then the spouses take turns picking an item until all of the items are gone.

If the spouses are unable to reach an agreement on how to divide personal property, the issues can be presented to the judge in a trial for the judge to divide. When this becomes necessary, I advise clients to think about division of personal property from a cost-effectiveness standpoint. Often, the cost incurred in attorneys fees to argue over division of the personal property may very well exceed the value of the property or even the cost that a spouse might incur to replace the item or items.

See our prior article Custody Suit Over Pet Gets Expensive.

Hat tip to Daniel Margolin of The Oregon Divorce Blog for his post entitled How to divide personal property in a divorce for the idea for this article.