Dividing personal property

Dividing Personal Property in a Divorce in California

Because personal property is defined as everything that you and your spouse own that is not real property (real estate), this category covers a vast number of items.

Here is a list of typical examples from dissolution cases:

  • Household furniture and items
  • Bank accounts
  • Stocks and bonds, stock warrants, and stock options
  • Copyrights, patents, and licenses
  • Royalties
  • Motor vehicles, aircraft, and boats, along with their associated equipment
  • Collectibles such as paintings, other artwork, rare books, coins, stamps, antiques, jewelry, and musical instruments
  • Safe-deposit box contents
  • Club memberships
  • Hotel points and frequent flyer miles
  • Accrued vacation from an employer
  • Judgments due to a party or potential civil claims.

Personal property is not commonly appraised in a family law proceeding because the cost of litigating the property interests in these items generally exceeds their value. Household items, such as furniture and dishware, are usually valued at their ‘garage sale’ value.  In other words, unless the furniture is an antique, the value is the resale value, not what you purchased it for. However, highly valuable items of personal property (vehicles, boats, airplanes, antiques, collectibles, furs) may need to be appraised.

Apportioning everything can feel overwhelming.  Here are some tips to help you through it:

  1. Make a spreadsheet and list all/most of your property.
  2. Any items on the list that were gifts are separate property and belong to the person to whom they were gifted. Note this on the spreadsheet.
  3. Make two copies of your spreadsheet. Each of you should then go through it and mark which items you would like to have.
  4. If there are disputes over certain items, go through those items and take turns choosing.
  5. Try to work together to split everything as evenly as possible.
  6. Note that if there are disputes about the values of personal property, either spouse can offer opinion testimony on the value.
If you have further questions in this area, check out our other articles, including:

“Is a gift from your spouse really a gift?”
“Divorce and Pets-Who gets Fido”
“What Is Community Property”
“What Is ‘Separate’ Property?”

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