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Family Law... Dividing Household Contents Without Your Lawyers

Judges use resale value (not replacement cost). Resale value is usually very low. It
rarely makes financial sense to pay lawyers to help you divide these items.

Kay Rhodenizer – September 2018

The Nova Scotia Matrimonial Property Act presumes that separating married partners and registered domestic (common law) partners will each leave with half the household contents or pay a cash adjustment (“equalization payment”) to the partner that leaves with less than 50% of the value of all items.

Judges use resale value (not replacement cost). Resale value is usually very low. It rarely makes financial sense to pay lawyers to help you divide these items. A less expensive alternative is to directly negotiate a division with your partner, if need be with the help of a neutral third party (an unpaid friend or perhaps a paid mediator), although you may want to have items with a higher resale value formally appraised (antiques, art, etc.).

Judges often order that the children’s existing furniture, electronics, etc. go to the home where the children will spend the most time and encourage parents to avoid the expense of duplicating items such as sports equipment, toys and computers especially if they are relatively easy to transport between homes. It is unusual to include the value of children’s items in an equalization, although sometimes new costs to furnish children’s rooms may be treated as a shared expense. When distributing children’s items, it is also important to think about your children’s wishes.

Excluding children’s items, start by making an inventory of other ordinary household items and valuing them. Include “outside” items such as tools, lawn mowers, etc. You may want to use a website such as ikeepm.com. If you must later involve lawyers or a mediator to resolve furniture issues having an organized format will help lower
your costs.

When valuing items, consider what you would likely get at auction, online or a yard sale. You may not feel as strongly about keeping an item after you see what it will “cost” you. There may be items no-one wants. If so, try to agree how to dispose of them (donate or sell and divide the sale proceeds).

DIVISION METHODS

Average value: Each partner values every item, then take the average and use that as the starting point to decide who wants the item.

Alternate Pick: Flip a coin to see who gets the first choice from all items. Alternate picks until each partner “owns” 50% of all items. After this consider trading items, with (or if you prefer without) the goal of each partner owning items of approximately equal value.

Silent Auction: Each partner submits values for each item. The partner submitting the highest value keeps it. Total the value of items kept by each partner. Decide if there will be an equalization payment, based on the values of the items each partner has “purchased.”

There may be items both partners want, so consider sharing the costs of having these items formally appraised to see if they continue to be “worth the fight.”

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