Have you ever fallen in love with something only to have it break, get lost or stolen? Maybe it was a special coffee mug, a favorite blanket or a stuffed toy. Gone forever.
I remember having an emotional attachment to special belt buckle. When it was lost, I was at first angry and then I almost cried. Eventually I felt silly for becoming so attached to a "thing".
In hindsight, I now realize that it wasn’t the belt buckle that was special but rather it was the memories it represented.
It was the first buckle I ever won showing horses. It represented hours of hard work and dedication to achieve a goal. As a teenager, it was very special to me.
The division of household contents is often a contentious issue when clients are separating or divorcing. Normally clients lament the cost of replacing items but, in most cases, if you drill deep enough, it is an emotional loss that fuels the fight. It’s not really about "the thing".
For example, spending thousands of dollars on legal fees fighting over a used electric kettle worth $2.00 does not make sense on the basis of the value of the item but if that kettle represents the hopes and dreams of domestic bliss or memories of happier days, its value is priceless.
Perhaps fighting over your kettle is your way to avenge the hurt caused by your spouse. There are many reasons for steamy conversations about a kettle but ask yourself "what is the real issue here?"
I encourage clients when thinking about the division of household contents to ask themselves "In five years, will it matter to me if I have this item or not?"
"Fifteen years from now, will I be proud to tell my grandchildren about how we resolved the division of household contents?"
This helps you make priorities and keep things in perspective. Things of a lesser priority can be bargained away to get things of greater importance. Deals can be made and settlement achieved, cost-effectively.
Jason Brown in his blog at Minnesota Divorce and Family Law Blog has an excellent article in which he lists some great methods for dividing up the household contents. He suggests the following:
* Two Lists: One of you makes two lists of items, of roughly equal value. The lists are presented to the other. The person who didn’t draft the lists gets to pick which list they want. There is an incentive for the person drafting to fairly and equitably divide things or they’ll get burned during the selection process.
* Silent Auction: This is my favorite. A master list of all of your personal property is created. Each party blindly puts a dollar value next to each item. The high bid takes the item at the value listed. Once all items are bid on, the totals for each party are added up. The party receiving the higher dollar value pays the other a cash equalizer to make up the other’s shortfall. Parties are free to place a high value on items they really want, but won’t list a ridiculous bid out of fear of paying a large offset.
* Arbitration: An arbitrator is basically a private judge. You pay this person, usually a lawyer, to listen to your side of things in an informal conference setting. Then, your spouse does the same. The arbitrator is given the authority to divide the entire list of items as they deem fair and equitable. Costs are saved because the parties attend the arbitration without counsel and divide the arbitrator’s fee. Most couples submit to binding arbitration so that the decision of the arbitrator is final.
* Rotating Lists: Make a master list and take turns going back and fourth until all of the personal property is divided. Flip a coin to see who goes first.
However you divide up your things, remember you won’t get everything you want and that’s okay. It just creates the new challenge of finding replacement items for reasonable prices. You can always go to garage sales or look online for bargains at Craigslist or Kijiji. Shop around. You’ll be surprised how little it will cost and how much fun it is to replace those missing items.
In ten years most of the stuff you are arguing about will be safely lodged in a dump somewhere, rotting away to eternity. It really isn’t worth the cost or energy to fight over them now.
So save yourself from paying legal fees. Don’t fight about your household contents. Just go replace your old junk with other people’s old junk… and make them part of your "new home"… a place for "new memories".
… but if you see my belt buckle, shoot me an email. I still miss it!