In Divorce, Judges Won’t Do Pots and Pans

May 26, 2012 | Divorce, Equitable Distribution, Legal Perspective

Icon for author Brian Vertz Brian Vertz

Whether you were married two years or twenty-five, chances are that you and your spouse have accumulated a lot of “stuff” – furniture, rugs, dishes, knick-knacks, pots and pans. When you separate or divorce, that stuff has to be divided. As you might imagine, no judge or hearing officer wants to spend hours hearing about your pots and pans, their value, and who got them. Here are some principles that might help you deal with “pots and pans” when you are separated or divorcing:

1.         Auction value, not replacement value. If a value is assigned to the pots and pans (furniture, dishes, knick-knacks, art, rugs, etc.), each item will be valued as if it were priced for a garage sale or auction. The replacement value is not considered to be relevant, because your pots and pans are used. In some cases, one or both spouses may hire an auctioneer to perform an inventory of the household goods and their auction value. In other cases, each party may testify as to his or her personal opinion of their values. You might want to keep the items that you will need to run your household after the divorce, so that you do not incur the replacement cost of buying new items.

2.         Fine art, antiques, jewelry, rugs and collectibles. Some property is more valuable because there is a ready market for trading fine art, antiques, estate jewelry, rugs and collectibles ranging from porcelain figurines to baseball cards. Specialized appraisers may be involved to assign value to those items. Insurance rider appraisals are a source of information but might not be sufficiently detailed or recent to be used in court.

3.         Make a list and check it twice. Before you or your spouse move out, it is a good idea to create a detailed inventory of the furniture and household goods, including pictures or videos of each room. If you are evicted without warning due to a PFA or exclusive possession order, or you or your spouse move without advance notification, make the list as soon as possible, including what was removed and what is remaining. You will have to make your list from memory, which will be clearer now than later. As soon as the dust settles, ask for an opportunity to obtain your most-wanted items (or at least call “dibs” before they are lost or discarded).

4.         Protect your cup. Sentimental items can become hostages in the battle of divorce, so it is a good idea to put them in safekeeping before hostilities flair. Family heirlooms can be held by friends or family members, and financial and business records can be copied and stored in a safe place.  But first ask your lawyer if there is an injunction or freeze order in place.

5.         Dividing the pots and pans. Some couples work out the division of furniture and household goods when they physically separate. Some reserve the right to assign values to the property that each receives, others agree that it is equal. Often the spouses are asked to exchange lists of items that they want to identify agreements, so that the court may focus on just a few disputed items. If a spouse is resorting to “self-help” by removing items without consent, the court may impose an injunction. Keep in mind that our courts do not divide a marital estate piece-by-piece. If one spouse gets a TV, she does not have to pay 50% of the value to the other spouse. Instead, the court adds up the entire value of all property and then decides what percentage each spouse will receive. Next, the court considers how much property each has at the time of the divorce, and how to reallocate the property to achieve the distributive percentage to each spouse.

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