Personal Property in a Separation Agreement
On one hand, it’s easy to say things are just things, and can be replaced, especially since it’s so expensive to pay an attorney to litigate over them. On the other hand, though, things ARE important. Especially some things. And there’s just no taking away from the sentimental value we place on some things, and the emotional attachment that can exist as well.
I’m a realistic person, and I totally recognize that. Generally speaking, I don’t tell my clients what they should and shouldn’t fight over, especially if things are particularly important to that client. I would say, of course, that I don’t think it’s worth spending very much time arguing over a particular item from Ikea, but there are many, many other things that make up a life that may be incredibly important to you. You deserve an attorney who understands the importance of the things that matter to you on a deeply personal level.
So, yeah, personal belongings are generally the first place we go when we start to talk about personal property. Here, I’m not really talking about your towels or your bed sheets or even your every day dishes. That kind of stuff generally isn’t worth much, and it’s probably not going to be worth spending much of your attorney’s time arguing over that stuff.
That doesn’t mean it’s worth nothing, though. When it comes to those general household items, I think the best thing to do is include a list of the things you want (or your husband can do so) and attach it to your separation agreement as Exhibit A. Just because your old Ikea bedframe isn’t worth that much doesn’t mean that there isn’t a cost associated with having to replace it – especially if your husband plans on taking the guest room bed, and you’ve got to have something to sleep on in your new place.
A good way to resolve these disputes is to include a list of what each party will take (or just one party, and the other keeps the rest). Sometimes we’ll negotiate back and forth and add and remove things to that list, but, in general, this is a relatively peaceful part of the process. You’ll need some to set up your new house, and he’ll need some, too. You’ll also both probably need to get new things, unless you started out with two of everything to begin with. Focus on what’s important, though.
Wedding China, Silver
If you, like many women, want to walk away with your wedding china and silver, you’re not alone. If I had a nickel for how many times I’ve included these things in agreements, I would have a LOT of nickels.
My experience, though? Generally, husbands don’t want this stuff anyway, and they put up very little resistance to you taking it away. Which brings me to my next line item…
TVs, Computers, Electronics
Though you probably would like a computer, things like TVs and recliners and other items probably mean less to you than to you rhusband. You can barter a bit here – you take the wedding china and silver, and he takes the big screen TV. You may need to satisfy yourself with the smaller guest room or master bedroom TV, but as long as you wind up with what’s most important to you (and throw him a bone), you’re likely to be most satisfied with the ultimate outcome.
Tools, Guns, and Jewelry
Which also brings me to other oft debated items: tools and jewelry. Much like the china and silver and TVs, these things are generally divided along the lines of gender.
If he has valuable tools or guns or other equipment, he will likely expect to take those things with him when he goes. Likewise, you’re probably attached to your jewelry. I know I am.
We could value these things all out and make sure there’s a roughly “equal” value in personal property being attributed to each party, but more often, we just allow him to take the tools (particularly if they are tools necessary to him doing his job, and, by extension, paying support!) and you take the jewelry. If you have no use for the band saw or the leaf blower, and he has no use for your sapphire and diamond earrings, might as well let it go.
Cars, Boats, Planes
These things sometimes get more complicated, because there may not be straight up equity. When it comes to cars, boats, and planes (yes, we do handle divorces where there are planes!) unless they’re paid off, they can be more of a liability than an asset.
Typically, he takes his car and she takes hers, including the debt associated with the vehicle, and each becomes responsible for their own taxes, insurance, and monthly payments. If there’s a big discrepancy in value (especially if he takes a car, a boat, and an RV, for example), we can offset that value from somewhere else (like retirement, or the sale of the house, to give a couple examples). Don’t forget, though – just because he has a decked out new 4×4 truck doesn’t mean that it’s straight equity. If there’s a $30k loan on it, it’s not worth it’s Kelley Blue Book value; we have to deduct the outstanding loan amount first.
Chances are, your family heirlooms are separate property. Separate property is property that was owned, purchased, or acquired before the marriage, or something that was given to or inherited by you during the marriage, so long as you received the gift from someone other than your husband. Your mom’s jewelry? Yours. Your dad’s paintings? Yours. As long as they’re separate, which they almost certainly are.
Likewise, his family heirlooms are his.
It might seem unfair that Fido is counted as personal property, but he is. Just like your antique entryway table.
Pets are divided in separation agreements all the time. One party or the other takes the dog or cat or bird or fish, and then becomes responsible for the maintenance, upkeep, and expense associated with the pet.
Anticipating a fight? It’s unusual, but sometimes we do work out custody and visitation arrangements with pets. We can discuss options with you if that’s something you’d like to do. I’m a dog lady, and I totally understand the special place our pets occupy in our hearts.
Another hot button issue is often the family photos. But there’s really no reason to worry, because luckily we live in the digital age!
Usually, what I like to do is include language in the separation agreement that my client (wife) gets ownership of all of the family photos. I include that she will scan and save those photos as digital files, and give Husband a copy of the digital versions of all the photos. Sure, it makes a little more work for her – all that scanning and saving – but then she has the physical hard copies of the photos, and the digital version to back up her personal family photo archive. And husband isn’t likely to complain; he gets all the photos, and he doesn’t have to do work to get them.
You’re thinking along the right lines, and you’re asking good questions. Often, attorneys discourage clients from thinking too much about personal property, but I understand the hold that your things can have over you – for sentimental and emotional reasons. Not only that, but you’re faced with the necessity of starting over and building a brand new life, and I’m sure there’d be a lot of comfort in knowing that you had some of the things you’d need to set up house again.
For more information or to talk to us one on one about drafting a separation agreement and how to handle your personal property, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.