The nitty gritty on dividing joint property.
Before I got married my grandma told me to put my names in all my books. "Why?" I asked.
I doubt that my copy of Anna Karenina will get mixed up with his Principles of Electrical Engineering, but I did follow my grandma's advice. You know, just in case…
So far, for us "just in case" hasn't happened. But for many couples just in case is a reality and many of them didn't have wise grandma's to help out.
Having the courts and lawyers help you divvy up your belongings can be expensive and a drain on the very assets you are trying to preserve, so Judge Roderic Duncan suggests dividing your things up without the courts.
First, he recommends that you both draw up a list of the items you own jointly. You can agree to omit items of lesser value (that microwave from 1975 he's had since college or your Scarface poster), but make the list comprehensive and detailed. Then, value the property. Go through the list and decide how much each item is worth. For bigger items like a business, your collection of spoons from around the world, or your pet get an outside opinion. After that, go through the list and decide who is the logical owner.
"Now go through your main list, item by item," says Duncan, "decide whether there is some good reason to have each piece of property go to one or the other of you. Start with the biggest value items and see how far you can get. If having an equal split is important to you, keep track of the total value each person accumulates. Later, trade off on the smaller items, with each of you taking one in turn."
This sounds a little easier than it is in practice, so Duncan recommends a few unconventional tactics to solve any disputes that may come up. Here are just a few methods on the list:
Coin flip I. Flip a coin and have the winner divide up all the items into two lists. Do not break up sets of things, such as dishes and tables with matching chairs. The loser of the coin flip then chooses which list he or she will take; the remaining list belongs to the listmaker.
Hold a sale. Hold a garage sale and divide the proceeds equally.
Entertain bids. On items of substantial value — a house, a business, an expensive car — have each spouse submit a sealed bid; when the bids are opened, the highest bidder gets the item. For example, if you have an expensive antique and one of you bids $8,000 and the other $9,000 on it, the higher bidder gets the item at its listed value. An equalizing payment is made at the end of the process.
Of course, if your divorce is too emotional and doesn't allow for this level of interaction and you have to involve the courts. Make sure you read up on your rights. Find Law has a great list of links to resources that can help you understand the legal aspects of dividing your property.
Or, like my grandma said, you could just write your name in your books now.