Dividing the Household Items in Divorce

We’re talking about pots and pans, washers and dryers, stereos, lawn mowers, the living room sofa. This is the everyday stuff that you used to make a home together. It can be the easiest to divide, or the toughest to divide, depending on how the two of you approach it.

Donnie and Marsha knew dividing the household was supposed to be easy. But they fought about every lamp, every tool, every piece of furniture. They spent more than either of them could afford to spend fighting over the household in mediation, and then with their lawyers. I remember one particularly painful session spent fighting about the Hallmark Christmas ornaments Donnie had bought for Marsha. The fight finished when Marsha dumped the ornaments out on the table in my office and began flinging them at Donnie. Finally, tediously, they hammered out a settlement. With pen poised, Marsha stopped and said, “Wait, I forgot about the pewter candlesticks.”

What was obvious to everyone but Marsha was that her concern didn’t have much to do with candlesticks. She just needed to keep the relationship going somehow, and fighting over the household items was the only way she knew to do it.

That’s not uncommon where the household goods are concerned. There are so many things there to fight about. If one of you is determined to fight, you can keep fighting for a long time over sheets and towels, electric drills, and toasters. Don’t.

Do this yourself

I spend very little time dealing with household goods, and I’m proud of that. There’s almost never a reason to get your lawyers or the judge involved in dividing up your household items. If you think strategically, there’s probably not enough value there to make it worth the time and expense. In addition, no one knows as well as the two of you how best to divide your household items. What you want to do is to make the division as painless as possible, and as certain as possible.

How to do it

If you’re already separated, the one who has moved out probably has already taken some of the household items. Perhaps the approach you could use would be to get together and walk through the place where the two of you used to live together. You can then make a list of the items still in the marital home that you agree to remove.

I’m a big believer in actually removing household items as soon as possible. Put them in a rental warehouse, or a friend’s basement, or in an attic, but get them segregated as soon as you can. That’s one less thing the two of you will have to fight about.

If you’re still living under the same roof, you can go through the same kind of process. The only difference is that you’ll be identifying everything one of you will take with you, not just the items not already removed.

If you can’t agree

If you just cannot agree on how to divide some items, see if you can’t agree on a list of them. Then you and your spouse go down the list and take turns choosing an item, just like choosing up sides for a kickball game. I know that seems harsh and arbitrary, maybe even a little silly, and it is. But when you can’t agree any other way, it allows both of you to reach agreement and move on.

Watch out

One thing you need to be careful about when you divide household items. It’s easy to forget things. There are some items that I often see people overlook, or at least overlook a value for them. That’s things like tools, which can be surprisingly valuable. There are also several things that are worth less than most people realize, like collections of dolls, spoons, baseball cards, records, CDs, or video collections. Nearly everybody has electronic equipment like computers, TV’s, and stereos. Again, these are usually worth less than people realize.

I have one final caveat, and this one is primarily for men. I see a lot of men say something like “Well she’ll get the china, crystal, and silver, of course.” And I have no problem with that; I just caution you to make sure you have some idea of what all that is worth. Nowadays, for example, a four-piece place setting of sterling could easily go for 150 dollars or more. There may be real value in that drawer. It’s okay to let it go. Just know the value of what you’re giving up.