Exercising Reasonable Emotion: Knowing When to Walk Away from Personal Property Arbitrations

Your divorce is finalized: the court has heard your testimony and the arguments of your lawyer and has divided the real property, bank accounts, and other major assets you owned jointly with your spouse. All that remains to divvy up is your marital personal property, such as furniture, sporting equipment, artwork, jewelry, and other personal belongings.

Courts will often refrain from dividing personal property between spouses and will instead encourage the parties to do so themselves. Courts don’t have the time or financial resources to hear you and your former spouse argue about who should keep the beige recliner and whether or not you owned the flat-screen TV before you got married, and here’s the kicker: neither do you.

When you find yourself in the middle of a hotly-contested divorce, it’s normal to feel some mix of emotions, including anger at your former spouse. While such emotion is natural, it’s essential to not let it rob you of your ability to make reasonable, intelligent financial decisions with respect to your case. Individuals attempting to divide marital belongings often get hung up on the emotional aspects of the task, such as whether or not they deserve more than the other spouse is willing to give, or simply a desire to “win” or not capitulate. However, as difficult as it may be to see your ex-spouse walk away with the $500 painting you had hanging in your bedroom, it rarely makes financial sense to involve lawyers in your division of personal property. The time your lawyer spends speaking with you, reviewing documents and receipts, and negotiating with the other side will likely cost you more in attorney fees than simply driving to Pottery Barn or Best Buy and buying a new sofa or speaker system.

So, if all that’s left to be done in your divorce is for you to divide your couches, your skis, and your kitchen utensils, do yourself a favor: rather than calling your lawyer, flip a coin. If it doesn’t land your way, walk away and use the money you saved by avoiding the court battle to buy yourself a new one.


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