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.