For separating or divorcing couples, sometimes the issue of how to split the physical items they have can be just as difficult (or even more so) than separating their finances. If you are getting a divorce, then the issue of the division of possessions is usually built in to the financial order. There is a lot of flexibility in what a court can do and how possessions should be treated. There are a few main categories of types of possessions that are relevant.
This would include items such as clothes, shoes, books, personal technology, jewellery, and paperwork. It would also include items someone uses for their job, such as uniforms, tools or computers. Usually, each person would keep their own personal items. If there are children, their personal items would usually stay with them, so if the children have one main home after the separation then their items would mostly stay there, whereas if there is a shared care arrangement then the children’s items are more likely to be split between the two homes. Older children will often have views on which items they want in each place!
Items related to a person’s job – ‘tools of their trade’ – will also usually stay with them. However the value of these items might be included in the divorce proceedings in another way, for example if the person is self-employed and they have spent a lot of money on tools, then the value of the tools might be offset by another asset. This also might apply if one person has very expensive personal items – such as jewellery, handbags, or top-of-the-line electronics – that are not comparable to those owned by the other.
This would also include soft furnishings, kitchen and garden items, home technology, and white goods. Often these are seen as joint items and so should be shared equally. How these are divided often depends very much on what each person’s housing situation is going to be after the divorce. If both people are setting up homes elsewhere, then it is usually possible to divide the furniture fairly between them. If one person is renting then they may not require certain items (such as white goods). If one person has the majority care of children, then it may not be fair to leave them without critical appliances. Often however if there is a broadly unequal division of furniture, then there will be a balancing payment from one person to the other to try and help them purchase necessary items for their new home.
This can be very difficult, and often cause tension. Gifts to a specific person usually remain with them, and joint gifts from one person’s family or friends usually remain with that person, unless there is a particular reason why that might not be fair in the particular case. Items such as baby books and photograph albums should often be shared equally if at all possible. If there are not enough for each person to have a share of these, then it can be arranged for albums or baby books to be copied by printing services so that both people can have their own versions.
Legally, pets are belongings. However of course owning a pet is also a responsibility and their welfare is important. Additionally, pets tend to be very important to children. Often, the parties will be able to agree which if them will be in the better position post-separation to care for a pet. Sometimes, both parties wish to keep a family pet, and they can even make arrangements for the care of the pet to be shared between them. Usually, the ‘value’ of a pet is not considered, unless they are kept for breeding purposes or are large and valuable animals, such as horses.
If one person collects certain items, or has antiques, then these are seen from a more ‘monetary’ position. If one person wishes to keep them, then the other should be compensated for one half of their value. If both parties wish to keep them, then either they will be divided (if this does not have an effect on the value of the collection as a whole), or they could need to be sold as a set and the proceeds then divided.
What if we were not married?
For couples who are separating who were not married, the position is more black-and-white. Standard legal principles apply, and the person who purchased an item or to whom it was given is its owner (whether that is a bed, a cat or an antique painting). Items purchased or otherwise acquired jointly are owned equally, and each person is entitled to 50% unless there is a specific declaration of trust to the contrary (and sometimes there is, particularly in relation to collections of antiques). Unless the parties can agree how shared items should be split, then if a court needs to get involved it may well just order the sale of everything and an appropriate division. However in cases where there are children (or, sometimes, pets) it is very helpful if parties can come to the table with a more constructive approach and bring in some of the other factors mentioned in this article, such as where the children are living and the ability to take care of pets responsibly.