Angela Walker – March 2018
Dividing and Valuing Household Contents upon Separation and Divorce
People often struggle to divide their “stuff” – from linens and towels, to larger pieces of furniture and artwork. This can be a frustrating area of the law for clients and lawyers alike. Often people are emotionally attached to the possessions they own. For lawyers, delving into the “nitty gritty” of furniture division it is not always a good use of legal resources. So…how do the courts value and divide household furnishings and contents when there is a disagreement?
As noted in the landmark property valuation case of Simmons v. Simmons, 2001 CanLII 4617 (NS SF), furnishings and contents are “depreciating assets” as they lose value over time (for the most part). They are thus valued on the date of separation. The value that is ascribed to these assets on the date of separation is the price they would attract at an auction after reasonable notice (Durocher v. Durocher,  N.S.J. No. 393). The cost to replace an item is usually not a relevant consideration.
Ideally parties will agree on how their “stuff” will be divided between them. This saves on legal fees. Alternatively, values can be obtained by having an appraisal of the household contents completed by a qualified appraiser. These appraisals are routinely much lower than clients anticipate as they are based on auction block value.
If matters proceed to litigation, and appraisals are not provided of the contents, courts tend to either (1) estimate the total value (sometimes based on the estimates provided by the parties); and/or (2) order that if parties cannot agree on value or a physical division of household contents, that the items will be auctioned off and the proceeds divided (see Reeves v. Reeves,  N.S.J. No. 324).
Typically, the children’s items, such as toys, bedroom furniture, etc., will stay with the children and are not included in a valuation (see Ferris v. Ferris,  N.S.J. No. 278).
As is often the case in family law, there are no absolutes. There may be factors relevant to your circumstances that are unique. If you have questions or concerns about the division of your household contents, one of the lawyers at MDW Law would be pleased to assist.