Dividing Personal Property in Divorce

“What? She gets the cabin AND the big screen TV?!”

 We’ve all heard the stories about nightmarish payouts during celebrity divorces (and Tiger thought that 9 iron to the temple hurt) as well as bitter fights over something as small as silverware. Personal property disputes during a divorce are common. Personal property generally refers to items such as furniture, tools, electronics and other items of value in your home.  Often, people attach much personal sentiment on these types of items of property.   Therefore, it becomes difficult to come to an agreement as to how to divide this property. As you can imagine, the longer the marriage, the more the memories, the tougher this task becomes. So how does it work?  How do you put value on property when the owner’s interpretation is clouded with personal attachment?

 Sometimes divorcing couples can come to an agreement regarding the division of personal property on their own or with some assistance from their respective legal counsel. Oftentimes, however, it becomes necessary to bring in a non-partisan expert who can accurately assess and appraise personal property at the forefront of the dispute. This can be an expensive endeavor (in Wisconsin, most personal property appraisals cost between $500 and $1,500) which yields disappointing results.  The expert who comes in to appraise your personal belongings does not care that the vase on the coffee table is great-grandma’s, nor does the expert care that you spent $8,000 on your home theater system five years ago.  The expert gives a subjective opinion as to the “rummage sale” value to your belongings. Therefore, great-grandma’s vase may only be valued at $20 and your home theatre system may not exceed $250.  Almost always there are values attached to items in a personal property appraisal that you will not agree with. 

 Also, the appraiser will not value every single item in your home.  They do not go through cupboards, drawers or boxes.  They usually will not climb up in your attic or climb over items stuffed into a garage.  They will only appraise visible items of value.  So, to some extent, it is up to you to catch missed items or point out items that you specifically want appraised ahead of time.

 Once the appraiser assigns values to these items, the party who has property of higher value must pay the other one-half of the difference.  However, the court or the other party cannot force you to accept items that you don’t want.  If there are items that neither party wants, the court will simply order that they be sold and the proceeds be divided.  Of course, there are then often issues with who will sell the items, at what price, etc.

 As a result of the above, when it comes to the division of personal property, it is best if the parties can agree how to divide everything.  Only you and your spouse are aware of the sentimental value that is attached to your personal belongings.   Only you and your spouse can reach an agreement that takes everything into consideration and is fair to both of you without going through the hassle, time and expense of an appraisal.

 To speak with an attorney understands all aspects of how personal property is valued or divided, contact us at 414-258-1644 to schedule a free initial office consultation or visit our website for more information.


2 thoughts on “Dividing Personal Property in Divorce

  1. A question regarding the division of personal property. How does a party who is moving out of a home and into a smaller condo/apartment keep from “furnishing” the former residence for the ex-mate. Is not an appraisal then necessary so that both parties receive as equal a division of the personal assets as is possible. Even if the party remaining in the home is willing to an “even” division, how else would the assets be reasonably valued? While some objects might have a greater value to either one or the other party, most items would not. Like sofas or the lawn tractor.

    • There are two ways to handle the division of personal property. Either the parties can reach an agreement as to who gets what that they both feel is fair. Or, an appraisal can be done to determine value. In that case, one party would owe the other an equalization payment to offset the greater share of the personal property.

      However, sometimes the party in the home doesn’t want the extra items or doesn’t want to pay. In that case, the only thing that can be done is to sell some of the unwanted assets and divide up the proceeds. Or, the value can be offset somewhere else as it an unequal division of retirement accounts.

We welcome your comments or questions. We will do our best to try to respond. However, please be advised that we cannot give legal advice in this forum and all communications are for general informational purposes only. Communication should not be construed as forming an attorney-client relationship. This is an open forum and any information you provide may be posted and will not be held confidentially. By posting a comment or question, you are expressly giving consent for the publication of same. If you have any specific legal issues or concerns, we always recommend that you consult with an attorney in the county and state in which you reside.

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