One of the most contentious issues during a divorce is the division of personal property. Each person feels connected to what is theirs, and understandably wants to be able to have access to their own items during a divorce. Retrieving personal property can be difficult when two people simply cannot get along, especially if one spouse moved out of the marital home in a hurry. If you need to retrieve your personal property, learn more about your options.
What is Personal Property?
Personal property includes the vast majority of things that an individual owns. These things may be valuable, or have no monetary value at all. For example, items like clothing, makeup, or personal hygiene supplies may not be worth anything at all, but they can be very important to the person who is missing them.
Alternatively, personal property may be very valuable. For instance, if one spouse moves out and takes all of the furniture in the house, it may cost several thousand dollars for the other person to replace these items. When property is not fairly divided in the initial stages of a divorce, it can make it difficult to equitably divide assets later on.
It is important to remember that Washington is a community property state. Under Washington law, anything purchased during the course of the marriage is owned by both partners in a marriage, and is subject to division during a divorce. Even if only one partner purchased the item, or only one partner uses the item, the property is still owned jointly as part of the marital estate.
Work It Out Before Involving the Court
If possible, both spouses should try to come to an agreement regarding low-value personal property (under $500). In most cases, one spouse will have no use for the other’s clothing or toiletries, and there is simply no reason that the spouse cannot go into the house and retrieve these items. Usually, attorneys for each spouse can work out an arrangement where one person will enter into the former marital home and retrieve his or her items.
During this process, it is important to avoid taking large items which may cause conflict later on. If an item is worth a lot of money, it is usually better to divide these items during the divorce settlement negotiation.
Contact a Neutral Third Party
If, for some reason, the former couple cannot come to an arrangement themselves, it may be useful to enlist the help of a neutral third party. For example, if one partner does not trust the other to remove only personal items from the home, it may be better to contact a friend or family member that both spouses trust. This person could be allowed to enter the home and remove items on a list that both spouses agree can be taken.
Court-Ordered Division of Property
When divorcing spouses cannot come to an agreement on how to divide personal property, the court will intervene. First, the judge will usually order the parties to mediation, where they will attempt to negotiate a property settlement. If that doesn’t work, the judge may divide the property according to his or her own opinions on who should get what.
As part of the divorce decree, the judge will usually specify how the property will be divided. The judge will decide on a date and time for the retrieval of the personal property, and any party who interferes with this process can face legal consequences like sanctions or contempt of court.
When dividing property in a divorce settlement, emotions can run high. Fairly and accurately dividing personal property often requires the help of a skilled Washington family law attorney. The lawyers at Pacific Northwest Family Law have many techniques at their disposal to help divorcing couples split marital property in an equitable way, and achieve great successes using mediation, collaboration, and other dispute resolution methods.
For help dividing marital property in a divorce, contact us today by calling 509-572-3700.