Protecting your Personal Property Before Divorce

When you and your husband decide to separate (or before, if you’re a planner), it’s a good idea to take an inventory of all your personal property. If you’re worried about whether your husband might lose, sell, or destroy something valuable or precious of yours, it’s an even better idea to move these items to a safe place until you know for sure how everything will be divided.

You probably shouldn’t get rid of or sell any of these items yourself, at least not until the judge has entered a final order in your case or you have negotiated a signed separation agreement. It’s smart, at least in the beginning, to treat your soon-to-be ex the way you’d like to be treated, and respect his property the same way you’d like yours respected. As tempting as it may be, it’s probably a very bad idea to have a yard sale with all his most prized possessions. Not only will that frustrate your attempts at negotiation later, but you may find yourself having to pay him back far more than your yard sale earned.

On the other hand, it is okay to secure other assets until your case is handled. If you have bank accounts or other intangible assets (stocks, bonds, retirement accounts), you can cut off your husband’s access to these accounts in the meantime, especially if he’s threatening to do something crazy with the proceeds just to make things harder for you later on. You should NEVER spend more than half of any particular account because you’ll have to provide an accounting for it later.

It’s also smart to take any important documents that you can get your hands on. Credit card bills, mortgage statements, birth certificates, passports, diplomas, copies of tax returns, deeds, and bank account statements are all important. If you think he will deny you access to these documents later, take them while you can and keep them in a safe place away from the home.

Remember that possession is not enough to make these items yours. You’ll have to either have your property divided in court by a judge or in your separation agreement. If these items were earned or purchased during your marriage, they are marital, and your husband probably has an interest in them. Even if your items are separate, meaning that they were yours prior to the marriage or were given to you during your marriage by someone other than your husband, it’s probably best to refrain from doing anything crazy (like selling or disposing of a valuable asset) until your divorce is handled. Having these items in your possession DOES mean that you can protect them, and that you can make sure you’ll have access to them, which is sometimes very helpful.

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