Dividing personal belongings and contents when separating in the context of divorce is a far from straightforward process, particularly as there are no hard and fast rules.

In many cases, focus will turn primarily to how the family home and pensions will be divided or whether maintenance should be paid, however, the division of chattels should not be overlooked.

Considering How To Divide Personal Belongings Early On

From everyday household items to expensive cars and family pets, consideration as to who will keep what should be given at the earliest opportunity to avoid disappointment at a later stage or important items being forgotten.

Reaching An Agreement

When dividing of personal belongings, the best case scenario, and ordinarily the preferred course of action for all involved, is that the parties agree a division of the chattels between them. This can then be recorded as part of the eventual consent order. It is not essential to list the items individually within the consent order, however, specific reference can be made to particular items if it is considered necessary.

Generally the courts would rather not become embroiled in disputes concerning the division of contents so it is preferable to reach an agreement where possible. There may be items where it is obvious that one party shall retain them, such as when they have been brought into the marriage by one spouse or gifted solely to one party. There may however be items which are far less clear, for example, those which have been gifted jointly or those purchased within the marriage from the proceeds of previous items, such as the sale of a car. It can quickly become disproportionate to negotiate at length regarding the ownership of chattels, so the value of items should be kept in mind.

Disagreement Over The Division Of Personal Belongings

There may be items which cannot be agreed upon, this is more common when they are particularly valuable or have sentimental significance. If there is a sticking point in negotiations then concessions may need to be made if either party wishes to keep their prized possessions. If these concessions can be made to the satisfaction of both parties, an agreement can be made and recorded.

However, if an agreement cannot be reached, the possessions may need to be looked at from a needs-based perspective; the Court should seek to ensure that each party’s needs can be met to assist them in becoming independent after divorce. This approach means that the split will not always be “equal” i.e. it will not be a simple 50/50 split.

So, what happens if you reach a total impasse and neither party can agree how possessions should be divided? Whilst a war of attrition over tables and chairs is ill-advised, it is perhaps unavoidable in cases where animosity is high. A Scott Schedule can be prepared, which will contain a complete list of all the items whose ownership is in dispute, with each party giving a value for each item. This can then be placed before a judge, who has the power to then decide as to how the assets should be divided. An alternative approach is to sell or auction each item, with the proceeds ultimately being shared, this might not however be favourable when the priority for the parties is to retain a particular item.

It is always best to avoid animosity over possessions, as any lingering resentment could damage the possibility of a civil relationship between ex-spouses developing or being maintained in the future.