Divorce is undoubtedly a very stressful time for couples.

During the marriage, spouses will have accrued valuable personal possessions, whether purchased jointly, individually, or obtained as a gift, for example, a special piece of jewellery.

Couples often worry about how such items will be distributed on divorce, especially as one or both parties are likely to have a significant emotional attachment to the items.

The same can be said for the contents of the former matrimonial home.

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If you cannot agree on the division of personal belongings with your former partner, the most cost-effective option would be to compile a list of disputed and agreed items in the schedule of contents and attend mediation with an accredited family mediator to try and resolve the dispute.

A list of accredited family mediators can be found on the FMA website.

Mediation is a voluntary process. Suppose your former partner refuses to attend mediation or consider another out-of-court dispute resolution option.

In that case, you will need to take steps to issue court proceedings to resolve this dispute, provided it is proportionate to do so.

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The court’s approach

The court’s preference is for the parties to reach an agreement amongst themselves regarding personal possessions and the content of the former matrimonial home or about the division of other personal items.

Disputes surrounding personal possessions are very emotionally charged as such items tend to have a sentimental value rather than a significant monetary second-hand value.

The litigation costs over personal items will likely outweigh the value of the items in dispute.

If the parties cannot agree on the division of personal items after a schedule of contents has been prepared either by the parties themselves or by a professional inventory company, it would only be proportionate to litigate further if the value of an individual item or set of items was particularly significant.

The court will likely take a pragmatic view and encourage the parties to toss a coin on an alternate basis for the items that remain on the disputed list.

Alternatively, the court retains the power to determine any remaining intractable dispute.

However, the Family Court is likely to order that the disputed items are sold and the net proceeds divided between the parties or may award costs against the party who “loses” an application to determine personal contents, so it is recommended to try to take alternative steps to agree on contents, rather than face the risk of a costs order being made.

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What happens to my engagement ring on divorce?

Engagement rings tend to be classified as a gift.

The recipient of a gift is under no obligation to return it should the marriage break down.

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What can I do if there is a dispute over antiques or valuable items on divorce?

If an item has a significant value, it is sensible to obtain a valuation from a suitably qualified expert, preferably on a joint basis with the other party.

It is also sensible to provide evidence of when the items were purchased or inherited, as this may persuade the Family Court to allocate the item to the person who owned it originally.

Suppose you are unable to agree on the division of these valuable items.

In that case, it is possible for parties to seek a declaration of beneficial interest in personal items pursuant to either S 188 Law of Property Act 1925 or s17 of the Married Women’s Property Act 1882. 

However, the court has no power to order a sale in the event of a continued dispute.

Regarding s17 of the MWPA 1882, it is important to bring a claim within three years of the Decree Absolute/ Final Order being made.

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If you need legal advice regarding how personal possessions are dealt with on divorce, please contact Myerson Solicitors' Family Team on: