The Family Law Leader

Q: We recently went to mediation and settled most of the issues in our divorce. However, my wife is being stubborn about personal property. She says that we need to place a dollar value on everything and that the values must be equal when we divide our stuff. I think this is a big hassle, and would rather not waste my time on this. How does the court look at personal property division in a divorce?

A:  As I am sure you can imagine, personal property is one of those issues that many Family Court judges would rather not get involved  in.  If it all possible, it is far preferable to settle personal property through mediation or direct negotiation rather then involving the court in deciding who gets the pots and pans.

There are many effective ways to settle a personal property dispute outside of court. One thing to remember is that when it comes to property division in a divorce, the court does not really care what you paid for the item, as the measure of value is actual cash value, or what the item is worth today, as opposed to replacement value, or what it would cost to buy a new one. For instance, that Betamax VCR your parents bought for you back in the 80s might have cost 400 bucks, but today you would be lucky to get 10 dollars for it at a garage sale. If you are going to assign value item by item, be sure to look realistically at today's value as opposed to what you paid for the item. If necessary, you can hire an appraisal service to come through your house and value everything. But unless you have items of extraordinary value, it may not be worth paying for this service if the two of you can agree on a basic "garage sale" value. 

Once you have agreed on value, make a list for you, and a list for your spouse and see if the two of you can come to agreement on it. If you can't, it might be worth going back to mediation one more time. Many mediators have creative ways of settling personal property disputes. If all else fails, you can write the disputed items on slips of paper, put them in a hat and have a random drawing.  If you can divide the ordinary household items outside of court, you can use the court's precious time for deciding the more important issues in your case.

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