Whilst division of the major assets, such as properties and pensions, will normally dominate the discussions when reaching a financial settlement; it will very often be the smaller, more personal items that can cause the most conflict as Joanne Wilbraham, Solicitor in the Family Team, discusses.
When parties separate, it is important to establish the assets, liabilities, income and pension provision of both parties. This will include going through a process of disclosure and as part of this process, parties must declare any personal belongings that they have.
These smaller items are known as chattels. Chattels include items such as furniture, jewellery and ornaments. Chattels may however also include larger value items such as cars, antiques or horses.
There are various ways that you may decide to share the matrimonial chattels. You may place a value on each item and then split the items equally to ensure both parties receive items of a similar value. Alternatively, each party can make a list of the items they wish to retain and this can be a starting point for negotiations. Other parties will distribute the contents of a house by listing the items and then taking turns to select items from the list.
Very often, however, there is an emotional attachment to the items which means that the parties are more reluctant to part with them. This can lead to lengthy and costly negotiations. In some cases, the parties get so entrenched about the chattels that they wish to retain that they lose sight of the bigger picture.
It is very easy to get caught up in arguing about chattels and in many cases, the legal costs of trying to resolve the matter will exceed the value of the items in question.
If you are going through a separation, try to limit the discussions to those items that are genuinely irreplaceable. This may be for example items which you have an attachment to, not for their use, value or purpose but for their sentiment. You then need to think about how much you are willing to pay in legal costs to try and retain these items.
You need to be accepting of the fact that splitting one household into two will not result in each party retaining all of the items they would wish to and there needs to be an element of give and take.
You also need to give consideration to your future housing and whether large items of furniture or items such as white goods will fit into the property. Also, consider the cost of transporting and storing the items. When it comes to items for the children, if they are to have a main home with one party then they will usually want their furniture and main toys with them, regardless of who purchased the items.
If you cannot agree then there is always an option of making an application to the Court for them to adjudicate on the matter, but again bear in mind that this will prove costly. The most likely outcome should the matter proceed to Court will be that the Court will not want to go into any great detail in discussing chattels and the usual approach would be to make an Order for the items to be valued, sold and then the proceeds split.
It is therefore important to adopt a sensible approach when dealing with the issue of chattels and be careful not to let them overshadow or delay the overall conclusion of your case.
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