The Family Law Leader

Division of Personal Property in a Michigan Divorce

Anything you own that is not attached to the real estate is considered personal property. This includes:

  • household furnishings and contents;
  • cash accounts;
  • vehicles and watercraft;
  • tools;
  • antiques and collectibles;
  • accounts receivable;
  • stocks, bonds, mutual funds and investment accounts;
  • shares in closely held corporations, partnerships or limited liability company memberships;
  • businesses or professional practices;
  • sporting equipment, guns;
  • live animals, pets;
  • airline frequent flyer miles or travel bonus points;
  • timeshares or club memberships;
  • stock options;
  • employee stock ownership plans;
  • intellectual property such as patents, trademarks, copyrights;
  • jewelry and personal effects.

Appraisal of Personal Property

It is important to take a careful inventory of all personal property early in your divorce proceeding. If your household furnishings consist of typical used furniture, it is not always necessary to have an appraisal. If you and your future ex are communicating productively, it may be possible to sit down together and draw up a list of household content division without any specific valuation. However, if you have furnishings of extraordinary value, such as heirlooms or collectible items, it may be necessary to have a personal property valuation. I can put you in touch with an appraiser or you can find one online. Many estate sale or auctioneer services offer appraisals tailored to helping people settle divorces.

When looking at the value of items, remember that the courts consider current cash value, not original cost or replacement value when dividing personal property. The judge does not care that your mother paid $360 for the VCR in your basement in 1986. If the item will bring you five bucks at a garage sale, that it is what it is worth for property settlement purposes.

Settlement: Who Gets the Pots and Pans?

Sometimes when couples separate for a period of time prior to filing for divorce, they have already physically divided their belongings when one of them moves out, which proves helpful in the settlement. If a couple has been separated for awhile, agreeing on the personal property split, the final judgment of divorce might say something as simple as “the parties have divided all personal property and shall retain all items in their respective possession and control.” If the spouses are still residing together at the time of entry of judgment, it may be necessary to have an itemized list attached as an exhibit to the judgment of divorce.

As a general rule, judges do not want to get involved in helping people decide who gets the pots and pans. The majority of my clients are able to resolve personal property through direct negotiation early in the proceedings. In the event they are not able to do this, I ask them to submit a list of everything in the house. I will then ask them to designate on that list what they want to keep, after which the list is forwarded to opposing counsel. If there are disputed items on the list that cannot be settled, sometimes a meeting with both parties and their attorneys is an effective means of resolving the remaining items. If such a meeting does not work, and items remain in dispute, I have seen the issue resolved by writing the disputed items on slips of paper, placing them in a hat and having a blind draw.

In addition to tangible personal property, other items, such as accounts, must be allocated in the judgment of divorce. Sometimes liquid accounts can be closed and the proceeds divided prior to the judgment of divorce, which is sometimes necessary to pay attorney fees or living expenses.

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