Clients often question what will happen to their "stuff." Usually, when they ask this question, they are referring to personal property including furniture, artwork, jewelry, collections, and all of the other items that they have accumulated in their home over the years.

People want to retain their personal property for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is as simple as not having the funds for new furniture or household goods. Other times certain items have sentimental value. Sometimes items are monetarily valuable and that is enough for a party to want to retain that item.

Some items of personal property are only owned by one spouse and are not marital property subject to division. All personal property owned by you at the time of marriage is your separate property. Also, items that you inherited during the marriage remain your separate property. If a third party (not your spouse) gifted you items during the marriage these remain your separate property as well. For example, the painting you inherited from your grandmother and the watch gifted to you by your father are your separate property and will not be divided as part of a divorce action.

For the most part, the courts do not want to be involved in matters personal property. If there is expensive artwork, antiques, jewelry or collectibles the court may address these items since these valuable assets. In this situation the items should be appraised by a reputable appraiser so that evidence of the value can be presented in court. However, if a personal property dispute occurs over ordinary household furnishings, the courts will usually direct the parties to divide these items themselves. These items do not need to be appraised. Many people are frustrated by this aspect of divorce cases, but the reality is that used furniture and household items have little value.

Generally, if parties cannot agree as to how to divide their personal property, the court will refer the matter for binding arbitration. At this arbitration, parties usually have several options. One option is for all of the items to be sold and the proceeds divided. Another option is for the parties to agree to a division of the assets. Or, the parties can divide the items through alternate selection. This means that one party will select an item, the other party selects the next item, and then the parties continue this "back and forth" process until all of the items have been distributed.

While many clients find it frustrating that the court does not want to spend the time dividing personal property, it is often more beneficial for the parties to decide what is important to each of them as they move forward with their separate lives.