When couples get a divorce in a community property state such as California, all assets acquired during the length of the marriage (but prior to separation) must be equally divided. Separate property, which includes any asset acquired before the marriage, is not included under community property. California courts define this dividing process as “equitable distribution”, to ensure that both spouses get their fair share when it comes to splitting up personal property, real estate property, bank accounts, retirement accounts, pension plans, family businesses, and insurance policies. Each spouse is required to make a list of all possessions and debts and categorize them either as separate or community property. The law is pretty straightforward when it comes to dividing financial assets so most couples are able to come to an agreement on their own or by using attorneys and/or a mediator, so they avoid having a judge make the split for them.
While personal property belongings don’t always have a high monetary value, they may still have a sentimental value. Those belongings may be the hardest ones to divide, as emotions can ramp up quickly on both sides. While you may have paid a lot for an item you’re emotionally attached to, like a piece of furniture, a carpet rug, an electronic device, or anything stored in a closet or garage, under California law the item is valued at the price you would get for it if you sold it at a yard sale, which may not be much. Yet some people let their emotions get in the way and spend thousands of dollars in attorney fees to fight for that one item.
That’s when the power of mediation comes in. When both spouses agree to a level playing field, they are more open to negotiating the fair division of their assets. They understand that their ultimate goal is a peaceful life after divorce and they want to get there as soon and as painlessly as possible. Using mediation to divide their personal, yet emotionally charged possessions, requires a few simple steps. First spouses should list the items they need to divide, then assign each item to one of the spouses. If they’re not sure about one item, they can put a question mark so they know they need to discuss it during their mediation session and work out a compromise. Everything can be divided one way or another. In the digital age, many photos are easy to split now that people can make copies of files and deliver them quickly to the other party. As for older photos taken before digital cameras existed, the choice is to either request / offer to make reproductions if you can’t let go of them.
As for pets, many of us consider them family members and California family law is starting to recognize pets and give them more rights. A mediator can help couples come up with a solution that will please everyone. This could mean one spouse keeps the pet full time and assumes all financial responsibility once the divorce is final. Or spouses can decide on a pet-sharing schedule, where the pet spends equal time with each spouse and both spouses are responsible for any pet-related expenses.
No matter what their emotional attachment to their personal property is, most couples can benefit from shorter negotiations and resolution. It may be hard to see while going through a divorce, but fighting for personal property you may eventually get rid of down the road isn’t worth the stress or the hassle.
To learn more about the mediation process, complete our request for a free online evaluation, and to receive a free 30-minute phone consultation, visit us at www.afairway.com, or call 619-702-9174.