Dividing Personal Property in Virginia Divorce

Posted on Mar 2, 2022 by Katie Carter

Personal property is the stuff that makes up most of our lives. It’s the kitchen mixer, the living room sofa, the bedroom TV. It’s your clothes, jewelry, makeup, towels. It’s his recliner, guns, fishing poles, golf clubs, and tools. It’s antiques and heirlooms, it’s photo albums (and the photos themselves). It’s art. It’s handbags, and computers, and the contents of the junk drawer.

Of course, personal property has varying degrees of ‘worth’. Some things – like your jewelry and his tools – might have significant financial value.

Much of our personal property, though, has very little value. Our towels, our bedsheets, our kitchen utensils, our clothes and shoes – is ultimately worth very little. Even our used furniture isn’t worth that much; or, at least, it’s not worth to anyone else what it’d cost us to replace.

More often than I find that things are worth actual monetary value, I find that things are worth sentimental value to one (or both!) of the parties involved in a divorce. Wedding china, photo albums, handbags or jewelry, tools and golf clubs may not be worth as much in terms of an actual appraisal as they are worth in the eyes of the person (or people) who value them.

A divorce attorney’s time, on the other hand, is worth something. In many cases, in Hampton Roads, a divorce attorney’s time is worth somewhere between $250-600 an hour, depending on their skills, experience, and reputation. It’s easy to do the math fairly quickly to see that fighting over, say, kitchen towels and coat racks doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

In fact, when you get down to it, fighting over a lot of personal property doesn’t make much sense. It doesn’t take too much fighting before you could replace your entire bedroom suite of furniture, especially if you’ve both retained counsel to help divide the marital assets between you.

For that reason, most people divide personal property in a couple of different ways.

1. Between themselves, with little to no work with the lawyer.

In many of my separation agreement cases, I simply include a provision that says that the parties have divided the personal property to their mutual satisfaction. I don’t know how they divided it, but I wasn’t a part of it. Because they never mention it to me, I assume they’re reasonably satisfied.

2. By a coin toss – whoever gets heads picks the first item, whoever gets tails gets to pick the next two, and then alternate.

In cases where property division is a little more contentious, the parties sometimes agree to a coin toss. To keep it as fair as possible, the person who ‘wins’ the coin toss goes first, but the person who ‘loses’ goes second and picks two items rather than just one. After that, the parties alternate until all of the personal property has been claimed. Usually, this is memorialized in a list of some kind.

3. Providing a list, which is incorporated by agreement.

The third alternative I’ve seen is that the parties include a list of the items that belong to one spouse (or, potentially, one for each). I attach that list as an exhibit, which is incorporated along with the agreement in a final decree of divorce.

I like this approach, especially when the husband provides the list – because then my client takes all the remaining items. But, often, she wants to include her own specific items as well, which is also fine.

Ultimately, to achieve an ‘equitable’ distribution, which is always the goal, we might look at the ‘value’ of an item, and try to divide things so that each party takes items of relatively equal worth. If that sounds needlessly time consuming and difficult, that’s probably because it is. You could also just agree to take your own things – your clothes and shoes and underwear and socks – and also the things of ‘yours’ that mean the most to you. Without getting too cliché, that means you take the art and jewelry and certain furniture, he takes the golf clubs and recliners and big screen tv.

In a lot of cases, I find that the parties don’t even really want the same things – or that no one wants other things. There’s no sense wasting too much attorney time fighting over personal property unless you really, really have to – which should be almost never.

Don’t forget that family digital photos can be SHARED; if I were you, I’d want ownership but I’d agree to copy the files to a hard drive (purchased by him) for his use.

The family pets should also be included as well!

For more information about the division of personal property or to schedule a consultation, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.