When we first start the divorce process, our thoughts naturally turn to what will happen with the children and how we will divide our significant financial assets (house, savings, pensions, etc). Rarely do we consider who will take the cutlery set that Aunt Hilda gave us for a wedding present.
The division of chattels (personal possessions) is however, part of the process and at some point, you and your ex will have to decide who gets what. Chattels include all non-financial or bricks and mortar possessions. Fortunately, wives are no longer considered chattels although pets most definitely are and these can often cause the greatest disagreement.
Sharing out everything you built together can be emotionally upsetting and often leads to considerable conflict. Items can be financially valuable or they may hold sentimental significance. Disagreement naturally arises over who owns what, who paid for what and who is more entitled to keep certain things.
When thinking about chattels, it is worth considering that if you end up in court asking a judge to agree this for you; not only will you experience a very grumpy judge who frankly has much more important things to do but he/she will likely present a list and ask you to take it in turns to choose items. Do you really want to pay the significant costs of a day in court to achieve that?
Instead, this is a time for pragmatism and compromise.
It is a good idea to start with an inventory of absolutely everything; furniture, white goods, attic contents, pets, garden equipment, cars, jewellery, art etc. Try to do this early in the process, so that it is not disputed later on.
You then need to negotiate with your ex. Here are a few ideas you could try:
Start by suggesting that any items gifted to the individual remain theirs and any item purchased for their sole use is treated the same.
Next, you could approach the list on a needs basis. You will each have a home and will need certain things. For example, if you have two sofas, then one each is clearly sensible.
Some couples agree to have an equal blend of existing items and new items, for example, one takes the fridge and buys a new freezer, the other takes the freezer and buys a new fridge.
Also, if there are children involved, consider where will they need certain items most often? So, if the children will be with mum for 80% of the time, maybe the trampoline should stay with mum too.
It’s also worth considering how children may react to seeing possessions in a new home or gaps in the existing home, especially if one party is staying in the family home.
Once you’ve been through the list a few times, you should be left with a smaller number of disputed items. These items are best approached in one of two ways:
Think about alternate selection (as a judge would enforce).
Or you could bid for the disputed items. The bidder places a value on the item and whoever has the highest bid, wins. As you go through the list the values offset each other and you end up with equal value rather than an equal number of items.
If you have valuable items such as jewellery, art or cars; then you will want to consider their actual financial value. Remember that the value of these is rarely as much as you have them insured for. Agree what basis you are valuing them on and split according to the agreed monetary value.
Pets can of course be much-loved family members and deciding where the pet goes can be utterly heartbreaking. The consideration here is perhaps where the animal’s welfare is best served. Will you both have the space, time and resources to care for the animal adequately? If yes, then maybe consider the children, pets should perhaps stay where the children will spend the most time. In the worst cases, where both parties want the pet and cannot agree, then a sharing agreement may be necessary and in fact, could be helpful to both of you.
Ultimately, it’s worth remembering that chattels can be replaced. The drawbacks of arguing over possessions are highly likely to outweigh the benefits of winning that battle. Be fair and pragmatic and then move on.
Maybe it’s time for a shopping trip!