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How are household items divided in a divorce?

The most important assets which need to be divided up during divorce normally consist of the matrimonial home and other property, along with pensions, savings and any business assets.

But most divorcing couples also have a large amount of household items and miscellaneous goods (legally known as ‘chattels’) which they have amassed during the course of their marriage.

Although many of these possessions may be very low-value items, there may also be significant assets such as expensive jewellery. So how are these chattels divided up?

What sort of household items need to be divided up in divorce?

There are a wide range of items around the house which will need to be sorted through when a married couple decides to get divorced, and these may include:

  • Furniture and white goods (ie fridge, washing machine etc)
  • Jewellery and valuable paintings
  • Books, CD collections, digital media assets (eg downloaded movies)
  • Electronic goods (eg computers, TVs, games consoles, stereo systems)
  • Miscellaneous household goods (eg kitchen utensils)
  • Clothing
  • Fittings and fixtures
  • Pets and vehicles (although not household ‘goods’ these are both classed as chattels)

All the relevant household items and possessions will need to be considered as part of the overall matrimonial pot.

It will generally be helpful to create a household inventory list to keep track of everything, understand what belongs to whom and the values.

Deciding who owns something

Decisions about which party owns what are generally left to the divorcing couple to negotiate between themselves.

There are no hard and fast laws about ownership of household items within a marriage, but some common methods for deciding ownership include:

  • Gifts – if one party received a gift personally (eg the engagement ring or a birthday present from a relative) they get to keep it. Meanwhile, gifts which were made to the joint couple (eg wedding lists) should be divided up equally.
  • Before and after – if one ex spouse already owned certain items before the marriage, they can hold on to these. Any possessions acquired during the marriage are split.

Prenuptial agreements

Any personal belongings owned before marriage can be protected to some extent by a prenuptial agreement (also known as a ‘prenup’).  Prenups are essentially contracts, entered into by a couple before they get married, which set out the intentions of how any assets should be divided in the event they get divorced.

A prenup can reduce the possibility of specified property (eg household items owned before marriage) being added to the overall matrimonial pot, but it is not a guarantee.

It is also possible to obtain a postnuptial agreement – which is essentially the same as a prenup, but is drawn up after marriage.

How are household items divided up in a divorce?

The law has very little to say specifically about how to divide up personal belongings upon divorce.

However, the general legal principle is that any assets which have been acquired or built up during the course of marriage are added to the matrimonial pot and divided up equally (ie 50:50 split).

As for assets which were already owned by one party prior to the marriage, the court may decide to exclude these from the matrimonial pot, depending on the length of a marriage and whether these assets were enjoyed by both parties or kept separately.

In practice, most household items will be comparatively low value and therefore will have little impact upon the overall matrimonial pot, especially where there is a matrimonial home or other property.

Decisions about furniture and white goods

Often one of the divorcing parties will remain living in the matrimonial home as part of the overall financial settlement.

In this scenario, it will often make sense to leave the furniture and white goods in the existing property, possibly adjusting the settlement slightly to take account of the value of these goods.

Sorting out jewellery, paintings and collectibles

Chattels which have significant financial value may be more contentious and are more often fought over during a divorce. It will sometimes be necessary to sell or auction these off and split the proceeds.

What can I do if my ex has taken what I wanted to keep?

If the divorcing couple are already living separately, it may be that certain household items have already been removed from the matrimonial home (ie one party might have taken some possessions to their new home).

In this scenario, if certain household items have been taken by the party who has moved out, it can be extremely difficult to recover these chattels – and if they are of low commercial value it is unlikely that a family court will get involved.

The best way to resolve this kind of dispute is through negotiation between the two parties – possibly using formal mediation methods.

Will the divorce courts help us to decide who gets what?

The family courts are generally reluctant to get involved with disputes about ownership of household items during the divorce process, especially if they are of little financial value and therefore do not have a significant impact on the overall matrimonial pot.

If the courts are forced to decide, they will generally just divide items arbitrarily or order an auction to achieve a 50:50 split.

Financial Consent Orders

If you and your ex-spouse have come to a decision as to how you will spit household items especially regarding the high-value or personal items and want to make that clause legally binding you are able to add it into your financial consent order making your agreement legally binding.

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You can include your decision in regards to finances and household items within your financial consent order and make it legally binding.

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This post was written by Mark Keenan. Editor of the Divorce Online Blog and Managing Director of Online Legal Service Ltd. Mark has been writing about divorce and related subjects for over 20+ years and is an expert in legal marketing.

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