The information provided below is general in nature and should not be relied upon legal advice. You should call 03 5445 1000 and speak to a lawyer at OFRM about your particular circumstances.

Don't sweat the small stuff — personal belongings and chattels in Family Law matters

When a couple goes their separate way there are a lot of things to be divided — not just the relationship and the emotions, but property, superannuation, time with the kids. In dealing with these issues in family law matters it is amazing how often the largest amount of time and the greatest stress is dealing not with these things but with the furniture, chattels and personal items.

No doubt tomes of psychology books could be filled with why this is the case. In my experience it is usually one of 3 factors:

  1. There are things that really mean a lot to someone, the other party knows it and sees that as a great way to "get back at them" or "get what they want"
  2. The amount of chattels and personal belongings is high in proportion to the rest of the pool
  3. People wanting the last word

In dealing with these issues, it is important to remember the approach the family court takes to such items. The items are seen by the court to be worth their re-sale value. So that leather couch you spent $5,000 on won't be worth $5,000 in your family law settlement but rather the amount you would get for it at a garage sale or on ebay. Maybe $500 at best.

Sometimes this approach makes things difficult. You know the other side has kept a fridge that cost you $2,000 only a couple of months before separation. You know it would be seen in the court as worth only $200. But you have to go out and spend a considerable sum of money on a new fridge while the other party has the use of a fridge that cost $2,000.

How do you avoid this? By far the best way to sort out these items to do so between yourselves without involving lawyers. Even if you can't reach agreement between yourselves on an overall property settlement, if you can put those differences aside and sit down and sort out the belongings you will save yourself in costs, stress and time later on.

One great way to solve these issues is go "pick for pick". If there are a collection of items you both want, take it in turns who gets what — things even out with this approach.

The other thing to do when faced with these situations is make sure you take a step back and see a fight over chattels and furniture for what it is. Will this item mean anything to you in 12 month's time, 5 year's time. Can you unpack the reason this means so much to you? Is there another way to solve the situation? Are you being realistic about what things are worth? Are you sure you aren't being sucked into an argument to take your focus off the big issues?

Certainly there are times when arguments and negotiations over such items are needed. What we can help you do is make sure you avoid them if possible, deal with them realistically and find appropriate solutions.