As a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, I consider my primary focus to be one of helping divorcing individuals and couples sort out and divide the marital estate in an equitable manner. This typically requires gathering all financial documents and statements with regard to all assets and debts. This includes the couple’s savings accounts, retirement accounts, credit card statements, brokerage accounts, equity in the family home and/or other real estate holdings, automobiles or recreational vehicles, any liens or debts owed, and non-qualified executive compensation packages, such as bonuses, deferred compensation, stock options, restricted stock, supplemental executive retirement plan.
However, when it comes to dividing the household contents, which I call “the pots and pans,” I encourage my clients to do this on their own. This is because family law courts and attorneys will very rarely get involved in dividing a couple’s household contents. For one thing, very little real value can be placed on such things. Generally, these items are considered second-hand, or holding only garage sale value.
I am sometimes surprised at how “the stuff” can become highly charged during a divorce. Couples argue about who paid for what, or which items belong to whom. Frustration then flares up and the process toward a settlement is stalled or derailed over pettiness and emotional short-sightedness. If the couple cannot come to an agreement, they can incur unnecessary legal fees or mediation costs in order to move forward.
I give my clients a spreadsheet form they can use to list all household items to be divided. Columns on the form include the Item Description, Estimated Value to him and to her, Separate Property of Wife, Separate Property of Husband, and Children’s Household. Go through your home room-by-room, identifying items to be considered for division. Include tools, patio items, garage items, etc. But, I suggest only adding items worth over $50 or some other figure.
If an item was brought into the marriage, gifted to or inherited by one spouse, that item is considered his or her Separate Property. In the case of children’s items, I advise couples to divide these in accordance to the Children’s Wishes, The Amount of Time the Children Will Spend with a Spouse, and the Nature of the Item. It is important in this situation that discussions are kept reasonable, moderate and calm, for the sake of the children.
If you get stuck on who gets an item or two, set the items aside for later. You may use an “alternate pick” method of dividing these items. Flip a coin to see who gets first pick. This process may work for dividing family photos, for example. Continue the process until all items are divided.
You could also hold a garage sale on all or some of the household items, and then split the cash proceeds. Most people tend to over-estimate the value of used goods, so do some research. Don’t assume anything about the values. Furniture, china, silver and flatware have plummeted in price over the years; however, good pottery and Native American items may have surprising value. To sell things yourself, consider offering items on 2-3 online neighborhood or Facebook Group pages (i.e. Nextdoor Neighborhood), or set up an online storefront at Ruby Lane, Etsy or eBay.
Another option is to hire an auctioneer or an estate sale company to liquidate your items. Then, divide the proceeds equally, after paying any related costs. If you belong to an online neighborhood or Facebook group, ask for recommendations from members on local auctioneers and estate sale companies. Then, set up 2 or 3 free consultations to get an estimate of your items’ values, and costs related to services. Don’t forget to publicize your garage sale, estate sale or auction on your neighborhood Facebook Group pages.
More valuable personal belongings
If there are more valuable household items, such as antiques, art or other collectibles in the mix, you may wish to get these appraised first, although most individuals use the internet to find values. Then determine how to divide these items up based on the appraised value combined with who wants what. Perhaps one spouse does not want any of the items, but instead would prefer cash.
Sometimes a specific item or two may turn up missing at the start of the divorce process. I’ve seen one spouse remove an item of sentimental value in order to leverage a power position over the other spouse. It is usually very difficult to recover items once they are removed. I advise my clients to photograph all household items, collections and valuables before filing for divorce, including any that may be stored in safe deposit boxes. In the case of jewelry or other valuable personal items considered to be separate property, it may be wise to store these in a separate, secure location for safe keeping until the divorce is final. In the instance of valuable collections, I’ve seen one spouse decide to get an appraisal of the collection, and then remove all the objects to a safe storage place until the time comes to determine who gets what.
Concentrate on the important facets of your divorce estate: the IRAs, 401ks, home, savings, stocks and bonds. Don’t let “pots and pans” get in the way.