The disposition of personal property following a separation or divorce can be highly contentious as well as confusing. Disagreements over personal possessions, even when they have little monetary value, can undermine agreements, lead to costly litigation delays, and increase hostility between parties. There may be confusion or simply a desire to hurt the other party when one spouse moves out and takes household items or personal items with the intent to keep them, sell them, or give them away.
The following information can make it easier to retrieve your personal property with as little hardship as possible.
Start with a List of Personal Property
If possible, try to prepare a list of your personal property that ensures it’s addressed during the course of your divorce proceedings and not divided in an inconsistent matter later when it may be harder for both parties to remember what personal property is considered part of the marital home. Your list should be as comprehensive as possible with the items you want to have returned with an accurate estimate of their value. You can deliver this list to your spouse and his or her attorney before mediation or court and it can be used as a basis for a court-ordered settlement agreement or mediator-assisted agreement. Be sure to note which possessions are property you owned before the marriage as those items are not subject to division in a divorce.
Try a Voluntary Division of Property
If both parties agree to the list of personal property that belongs to each spouse, the way to divide it is to do so voluntarily. As long as the court hasn’t entered a temporary order or a restraining order that prohibits the division, a spouse can return to the marital home and pick up the items and low-value separate party that both spouses have agreed to divide.
If you use this option, it works if the property that you are dividing is worth under $500 such as clothing, personal items, and toiletries. Trying to recover higher-value items before an agreement can lead to disagreements or it may be determined to be community property by the court.
Court-Ordered Property Division
If the parties can’t agree to distribute property together, the court or a mediator may divide up personal property for them in a reasonable manner. This may be done through a settlement agreement that lists each item that each spouse is entitled to recover with procedures for retrieving the property. These procedures may include that a third party must be present and notice may need to be given, for example. Settlement agreeements that are part of a court’s final order can also be enforced by the sheriff’s office or law enforcement agency.
If a settlement agreement fails to make a plan for dividing property, both parties can request a court order requiring the return of personal possessions. Court orders usually include a time and procedures for retrieving property.
A Police Escort is Possible
If you do not feel comfortable meeting your spouse to pick up your property, you cannot set a time when a third party will be available, or you believe you will not be safe, a police escort may be available to accompany you to the marital home to pick up your belongings. If necessary, a police officer can order your spouse to leave the premises and allow you a reasonable amount of time to retrieve your personal possessions.
Property Can’t Be Sold or Disposed Without Permission
It’s important to note that neither spouse can sell, destroy, or give away property without permission from the other spouse or the court after a divorce has been filed. Once the divorce is final, neither spouse can get rid of possessions awarded to the other spouse until time limits in the divorce decree or agreement have passed.
If your spouse disposes of your property before they are legally allowed to do so, you can claim wrongful disposal of your belongings.