Here’s the honest truth. Judges don’t really care about your stuff.
If you and your partner can’t figure out away to divide up your personal possessions fairly, you shouldn’t expect a lot of patience and tolerance from a Judge who, frankly, has more important things to do than to sort this out for you. Every judge who has sat for any period of time in a Family Court will have a number of funny stories to tell about the inability of otherwise sane people to make rational decisions about personal property issues.
Whether or not you’ve ever been married, if you’ve lived together in the same residence it is almost inevitable that there will be some things that were bought together and that each party wants to keep.
As one of my former colleagues observed, if parties are able to craft their own solution they can do so using a surgical scalpel (that is, they can get down into as much detail as they wish) but if the parties aren’t able to do that, a Judge is more likely to use a machete!
I personally have had a number of cases where the disputes about “stuff” border on the absurd. For example, one party in a dispute between an unmarried couple argued passionately that the other party had burned his collection of pallets. Maybe she had. But, he could have easily replaced them at no cost by simply going to the local lumber yard and getting a new collection of used pallets.
In another case, also involving an unmarried couple, the parties had five dinner plates between them. One party was outraged when I divided them by giving three plates to the other party and two to him. I then asked him how much he thought the additional plate would cost him at a yard sale. He conceded it would be about a dollar.
While these two other cases did not involve me, these are true stories – I’m not making them up. One judge was hearing a divorce case in which the parties wasted a great deal of court time arguing over a number of relatively valueless items, including their Tupperware collection. The judge was so frustrated that he entered a final order giving one party the tops of the Tupperware, and the other the bottoms.
In another case, the husband put a very low value on his worn-out automotive tools but a very high value on the wife’s rare Hummel figurine collection. The wife, however, said her chipped and unpopular figurines were worth little, but those antique car tools were very valuable. In announcing his ruling, the judge said he believed in awarding each party what they valued. Since the husband valued the figurines more than the tools and vice-versa for the wife, he got the figurines, valued at about what he said they were worth, and she got the tools, valued at about what she said they were worth.
The moral of these stories is that you do not want to be seen as wasting the court’s time over trivial issues. Be realistic and be careful what you wish for.
There is one exception to the general rule about stuff – judges know that family pictures and similar momentos can have huge emotional value; and rightly so. I have a standard paragraph I include in many of my decisions that is designed to address this issue. It is: ”The parties are ordered to divide the family pictures and similar momentos evenly. The party that does not receive any particular item has the right to have a duplicate made, at that parties request and expense, and the parties must cooperate to ensure that each has a copy of the requested items.”
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