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Divorce is not a single event, but a series of losses, changes and transitions. There are many watershed moments in the process of dissolving a marriage. One that seems overlooked for its emotional impact is the division of the martial property.

It is easy to say “It’s just stuff, it can be replaced”, but the accumulation of furniture, objects and even chintzy doodads of no “real value” are keepers of the couple’s stories. As the years go on, we amass possessions that hold memories and are the tangible evidence of the milestones and celebrations of the relationship. Our stuff holds our history.

There is that collection of shot glasses representing the states you visited on that cross country trip as newlyweds. There is the writing desk his grandfather made, given to both of you as you celebrated a marital milestone. There is that crazy abstract painting you bought years ago which cost you more than you could afford, but simply could not live without. There is that first piece of “good” furniture you splurged on. There are collections of books, music and of course photographs. All of these things you accumulated together.

Now as you consider how to divide the “stuff”, it helps to think of your possessions in categories. Some will be split with an eye on the practical, some will require appraisals for their value and others will simply pull at your heart strings. Discussing these items by categories can facilitate you and your partner having conversations about the division that will not lead to huge explosions. Just knowing that some items will elicit more emotion than others can help you prepare yourself for the division.

  • Items you each owned before the marriage-These stay with their original owner.
  • Practical stuff including furniture, tools, kitchen items, bedding- Extras/duplicates can go with the person who is leaving the home. The majority of stuff should stay at the family home.
  • Valuable stuff- Antiques, collections, art work, vintage cars, boats, etc. These should be appraised professionally and split.
  • Sentimental stuff- These are items that are precious to the family. Despite the fact that they may have no real monetary value, they often spark the biggest controversy. Make duplicates when possible (photos, music, etc). With those items that can’t be duplicated (i.e. your children’s art work or a collection of seashells) take turns choosing.
  • Items that express personal interests- Books, CD’s, hobby materials, etc. Each party should be able to take his/her things. Shared hobby? Then a shared split.
  • Children’s stuff- Their furniture and everything they use in their daily lives should remain in the family residence. A child’s bedroom represents their emotional haven especially when their parents are breaking up. Make sure to leave their space intact. Later the child should be free to move toys, clothes, games, etc., back and forth between the two homes with ease. Right now-minimize changes to their environment as much as possible.
  • Items of Legacy- Those things you want your children to inherit. These should be discussed, listed and then decided who will hold them for the future generations.
  • Gifts-They are yours to keep. The only exception may be family heirlooms, which you may choose to return to the family.
  • Wedding Photos- Usually no one wants those! Many people impulsively destroy them only to regret it later. The truth is these belong to your children. They go under “Items of Legacy”.

And course, you know this, but it is a good reminder- you won’t get everything you want; but neither will your partner.

Finally, the parent who is moving out should be mindful not to leave the home looking ransacked.  You don’t want your child to look around his primary home and see it as cleaned out, only to see those items show up in the new residence. It makes you look like a marauder.  I have heard stories of men taking the lawn mower and snow blower only to move into a condo. That is simply spiteful and your kids will notice; especially when they are outside on a frigid day shoveling snow.

Remember, your kids will be watching. How you behave, interact and what items you take is not just about your “comfort”. It speaks to your kids of your character and how you much you care for them. You may feel entitled to “what’s yours”, but when you strip the family home, you also disrupt and upset the children’s home. Keep in mind what is really of the most value; it is far more difficult to regain children’s respect than to replace even the most precious of items.

 

© 2013 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice in Farmington, CT since 1986.She is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback.

6 Comments

  1. Wendy on the 27. Jan, 2013 remarked #

    Donna, this checklist should be handed out to EVERY couple going through the process of divorce. Every divorce attorney should have multiple copies of this document on-hand and it should be used to guide the client. OUTSTANDING!

  2. cj golden on the 27. Jan, 2013 remarked #

    I was fortunate as he had wanted nothing from the house. I can only imagine the horror of dividing those possessions and recognize how keeping my home in tact made the transition from married to divorced that much easier.

  3. Diane on the 27. Jan, 2013 remarked #

    This really is excellent. It creates a framework for handling this physical manifestation of loss and a bunch of other pretty messy emotions. I think it is easy to err on giving too much up too, not just wanting the cond lawnmower. It is easy to oscillate one day to the next.

  4. Tani on the 28. Jan, 2013 remarked #

    Good list to have on hand, even if you’re not married but in a commited relationship or common-law marriage. But as for the wedding photos, it should be noted that not all couples have children, so the photos can be destroyed at will and with pleasure! 🙂

    • Donna Ferber on the 28. Jan, 2013 remarked #

      I would suggest waiting a while before you trash those photos. Whether you have kids or not, any relationship of significance is a part of your history and with time, after the anger and hurt abates( and it will) you may regret destroying this memento of your past.

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