How to Divide Personal Property in a Divorce

In a typical divorce case, the parties will divide their property equitably (not equally) so that each party receives roughly half of the marital estate.  In New Jersey, the marital estate consists of all property acquired during the marriage.  The marriage generally starts on the date that the parties are married and ends on the date that one of the parties files a complaint for divorce.  When the parties are going through a divorce, one of the issues that they must resolve is the division of their personal property.

So what is personal property.  Personal property consists of tangible and intangible personal property.  Tangible personal property is that property that you can touch.  A car, couch, china, collectibles, etc., are tangible personal property.  Intangible personal property consists of cash (even though you can touch it), stocks, bonds, bank accounts, other monetary assets, etc.  Marital cash in bank accounts, stocks, bonds, and the like are typically easy to identify and divide.  Complications can arise with financial assets (such as stocks with unequal basis, qualified accounts, contingent assets, etc.), but in most cases division of intangible assets is usually straight-forward.

If there is going to be a dispute, it is usually with the division of the tangible personal property.  In most, but not all cases, such disputes are unrelated to the value of the personal property.  The dispute in such cases is usually related to each spouse’s perceived “fairness” or entitlement to an item.  In such cases, it is helpful to point to Rule #3 of Our Principles on our “About Us” webpage.  Rule #3 says that a divorcing spouse should be mindful not to spend more money on their attorney then they expect to make or save in their case.  Unless an item is a family heirloom for “your” family, it usually makes little sense fighting to keep the item.  If the item is valuable, it can always be valued by an appraiser.  The value of the item can be offset by another item.  If the item is an absolute deal-breaker, then the parties can certainly go to court and let a judge decide whether one of the spouses will get the item, or whether the item will be sold, and the cash distributed.  In almost every case, the spouses can and should make that decision by themselves.  It is a lot less costly than going to court.