Dividing household items & personal belongings in a divorce
The most important assets that 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 what happens to personal belongings and household items when it comes to divorce? We cover this and more in our article to help you understand your options when it comes to splitting possessions.
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 the marriage are added to the matrimonial pot and divided up equally (ie 50:50 split).
As for assets that were already owned by one party prior to the marriage, such as property, 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.
The division of household items can be documented within a financial order and once approved by the courts it becomes legally binding – ensuring each party receives what has been agreed.
What sort of household items need to be divided up in divorce?
There is a wide range of items around the house that 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)
- Fittings and fixtures
- Pets & 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, and understand what belongs to whom and the values.
Deciding who owns a household item or asset
Decisions about which party owns what is 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.
Protecting your belongings with 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
Alternatively, if one party decides to keep the chattel of value, this could mean the other party receives an equivalent value of something else, such as joint savings.
What can I do if my ex has taken what I wanted to keep?
If the divorcing couple is 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 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, which is why it’s always advisable to agree on your financial agreement without the help of the court.