The disposition of personal property located in the former marital residence is often overlooked in settlement discussions. This issue of who gets to keep the “comfy green couch” may seem trivial when you are in the midst of spending countless hours negotiating an alimony award or a complicated custody arrangement.  However, without properly addressing this issue, it is very easy to get caught up “in the trees” and allow disagreements regarding personal property to stall further economic or custody negotiations.

It is even more dangerous when attorneys fail to give full treatment to the issue and put in language into a final Marital Settlement Agreement, such as; “The parties will divide up their personal property to their joint satisfaction”.  Newsflash – people who are getting divorced, will more than likely not be able to sit down at the dinner table and dibby up the good china!

So what do you do to avoid a post-judgment application regarding Aunt Eva’s Forman Grill that was given to your client as an engagement gift?

The best tip I can offer is to begin dealing with the issue of personal property at the outset of the litigation.  I often have my clients develop a list of personal property and have them place a good faith value on said items.  The next step is to develop a roster of items that your client wishes to retain and identify what items the other spouse will more than likely request (sentimental value…etc).  Once I have reviewed the prepared list, I will then send over an initial distribution plan to the other side.  If there are valuation concerns, sending the proposed list early in the case allows plenty of time to work out a proper distribution method with opposing counsel.

If the former marital residence is going to be listed for sale, it is critically important to establish a proper timetable for the parties to remove belongings from the residence so the real estate listing can move forward.  The removal of belongings is often a sensitive issue, as one spouse may not feel comfortable with the other party having access to the former residence.  To ease these concerns, work with your attorney to identify a neutral third party to be present and can take inventory of the retrieved goods when the removed spouse returns to the residence.  The involvement of an agreeable third party, along with an identified time frame/scope for the retrieval of your client’s belongings should help smooth this often turbulent process.

Another issue that often arises concerns the disposal of personal property that is unwanted by both parties.  While some clients would like to place their spouse’s belongings in a trash bag and place it on the curb, it is important to realize that there could be some identified value on personal goods that are no longer desired by the parties.  Have your attorney get in touch with opposing counsel and identify a list of goods that both parties wish to mutually dispose.  Consider your options, donating old clothing or furniture may produce a nice tax deduction that will benefit the parties.  Additionally, there are many disposal companies out there that will pay you cash for your “worthless items”.  This money can be split between the parties, or placed in a custodial account for your children.  If a moving company is necessary to dispose of these items, both parties will more than likely be responsible for sharing the cost of these services.

While the disposition of personal property may sound trivial, it is often the issue that holds up a final settlement of a case.  Work with your attorney from the outset of your case to get the issue out in the open and try your hardest to think with your head and not with your emotions.  If you follow these simple tips, dividing up the personal possessions acquired during your marriage should fall into place without the need for expense litigation.