Knowledge Base

Furnishings and Possessions,
How To Divide This "Stuff" 


July 1, 2014
Written by Lynne C. Halem

Most people do not think of their household belongings as assets.  It is, after all, just “stuff”.  Except that, if asked to view the "stuff" as property subject to division in divorce, then suddenly, even the smallest or most insignificant items are seen in a whole new light, indeed a whole new value.

In divorce, couples are confronted with the creation of two new households.  Furnishing a new home is not a simple or inexpensive undertaking.  The replacement of major items such as televisions and sound systems is obviously an expensive assignment, but dishes, appliances, towels, sheets, silverware and the rest of the stuff that makes a house a livable home is no small deal.

Some couples evidence little trouble or concern with dividing their belongings. “No big deal,” they say. “ We will have no trouble with this task; you can consider it done,” they tell their mediator.

But others faced with the task are beset with confusion. 

The questions can multiply with little effort.

Ironically many couples evince more emotional ties to “stuff” than they do to the major assets of retirement funds and real estate.  Each piece has a history, a place where it was purchased or a situation that surrounded its origination. For example, a family member purchased it for one of the spouses for his/her 21st birthday or the purchase was made from dollars saved over many years—a real sacrifice. There are memories surrounding the painting or the table or the piece of jewelry –and memories linger and take on a larger meaning when an individual is asked to put aside feelings and view an item as only an item, maybe even only as its dollar value.

So how do couples who are beset by these deep and troubling questions actually divide their belongings, and create two households from one? There is really no one perfect solution, no one-way that fits all families. There are, however, some guidelines to follow.

Guidelines to Dividing Joint Belongings; the "Stuff"

Is an Appraisal Needed?

Typically the mediator works with the couple to fashion a process that will help them to divide their household possessions rather than to participate in the actual division.  Rarely are appraisals undertaken for entire households of belongings unless the couple is truly unable to reach a division that seems equitable to both or the items are of such significance that appraisals are mandatory.  More commonly, where appraisals are undertaken, they relate to individual items or collections of items.  Art, rugs, jewelry, collections, antiques are among the items that may require appraisals.  At times a couple agrees to divvy up valuables without consideration for value and agrees that each one will bequeath the items to the children, thereby preventing either from selling the valuable.  Or, if the item is to be sold, then the proceeds will be equally shared. 

The “trick” to working through a division of “stuff” lies in thinking creatively and, too, thinking of each other’s feelings as well as the bottom line dollar value.

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