Dividing the personal property in Virginia divorce

Posted on Jul 22, 2020 by Katie Carter

On Monday, I wrote about a woman who came to Second Saturday with a TON of questions.  I answered some of them in my article about the financial records you’ll need to prepare for your divorce that I published then, but I’m not done.

I’m still talking about records, but today about personal property. Specifically, do you need to inventory everything? Do you need to assign value to each item? Do you need to tentatively list who plans to take each item?

Again, slow down. No need to put the cart before the horse. To the extent that you and your husband can agree, that’s fine. But if it’s a contentious situation, don’t waste your precious brain cells on worrying about it until its time.

Personal property is important to a lot of people; after all, they’re the things that surround you in your home. You’ve probably spent time picking out the furniture, the wall art, the rugs, the things that you have around you. Some things – even though they’re just things – are important to you. And even the things that maybe aren’t important to you – linens, towels, plates and everyday silverware – are important just because you know that, once you separate households, you’ll need to replace the items you don’t take with you from the marital home.

But, probably, the thought of creating an inventory is a little staggering. The woman who came to Second Saturday mentioned to me that there’s a box in her garage FULL of electronic equipment, even things like cables for the TV that cost “like $50!”

Do you need an inventory of all of your items of personal property?

She came in with a preliminary list. She had attached values to all of the items, and kept running totals. Honestly, that’s not something that I see in most of my cases! Though a TON of personal property makes up even the smallest of households (Marie Kondo excepted, of course), we often don’t get too granular when it comes to how to dispose of it.

Can you imagine, actually making an inventory of EVERY item? That’s so daunting it’s almost not even possible. Besides, not to hurt your feelings, but personal property really isn’t worth all that much once it’s been used.

Then how do you divide personal property?

Most of the time, the parties decide because its simply not feasible to have attorneys (to the tune of $200-500 an hour) work to divide each and every item. At that cost, you could replace most everything pretty quickly!

My suggestion? Divide the big stuff. The furniture, the computers, the TVs.

But, in a lot of cases, you’ll find that what you want and what he wants are not the same things. Many husbands list gun collections, fishing poles and tackle, golf sets, tool sets, etc., as some of the items they want. Do you have any objection to that? Probably not! And chances are you’ll want to take other things too. The most frequent ones I hear are jewelry collections, antiques, etc.

If you don’t care if he takes something, let him take it. It’s not like we need to make sure everything is exactly, perfectly, equally divided. He takes his clothes, you take yours. We don’t need to divide them, no matter which of you is fancier or spends more on designer duds.

We can’t agree on how to divide some things!

That’s okay. Divorce is hard. And, often, these things don’t resolve immediately. To the extent that you can’t agree, ask yourself, “Is it worth paying an attorney to discuss this?” If so, bring it up to your attorney.

If not, we can discuss other ways to work through this. We can put, for example, in a separation agreement that you agree to a coin toss – the one who gets heads, picks first. The one who gets tails picks the next two items. And then you alternate until the rest of the contested property is divided.

Accept that you won’t get everything. Accept that you’ll have to purchase some new things. But consider that a benefit instead of a burden, because purchasing some new items will give you a chance to create a new home that features you – and not your ex.

In general, be prepared to let some things go. Do some time thinking about what things are important to you and what things aren’t. In a lot of cases, the overlap won’t be as much as you think. In the cases where it is, try to be reasonable.

We once had a case – it was before I was practicing, but it has taken on a kind of parable-type quality to it since it was so ridiculous – where the parties were fighting over these commemorative plates featuring different kinds of waterfowl. The clients spent THOUSANDS of dollars litigating, and, ultimately, the judge split the collection between the parties just to end the madness – which basically rendered it valueless.

The parties spent more than the stupid plates were worth. I mean, I get it – maybe, to them, they’re not just duck plates. They’re special. They represented something. Something that was, somewhere along the line, lost in translation. If it’s worth it to you, then have at it. But I do suggest that you do some real thinking about what is actually important, and make careful, considered decisions about whether to pursue litigation in order to divide personal property.

Oh, and, definitely don’t worry about attributing values to random cables you found in a discarded box in the garage. They’re probably not worth $50, even if you spent that on the cable at one point, and certainly won’t be worth litigating over in your divorce. Let it go. You’ll be much happier if you do.

For more information or to set up a confidential one hour consultation with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.