The TV, Couch, and Coffee Table – Dividing Personal Property

June 15, 2015


Many parties assume they will be able to amicably divide personal property – so they put it off until the end of the case.  However, waiting until all the rest of the property has been divided, such as the house, retirement accounts, bank accounts, etc. may allow the parties’ anger to bubble up and focus on the personal property.

The law in both D.C. and Virginia requires that property be divided in an equitable manner.  In order to determine what is equitable, the Court has to know the value of the property.  It’s easy to value bank accounts and real estate.  However, it’s not that simple with personal property.  When there is a houseful of furniture, collectibles, paintings, and rugs, each item may bring up memories and emotions which makes it difficult to resolve.  Further, parties find it hard to understand that most personal property actually has very little value.  The value is not the replacement price, but the fair market value of the item.

So what can the parties do? One option is to have the personal property inventoried at the beginning of the case.  Divide what you can, at the time that one party is moving out. Finalize an agreed list of who takes what.  Another option is to attend mediation to resolve personal property.  Some parties may agree to donate the unresolved personal property to a charity.  Some parties allow their children to divide the personal property.  If the issue is brought before a Judge, he or she may just divide the personal property arbitrarily or ask the parties to flip a coin and select alternatively.

It’s best to keep in mind that personal property may be difficult to divide if you put it off, and so you might want to resolve it first.

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