Divorce Options - Does A 50/50 Split of Possessions Work in Divorce

Not Necessarily

It has always seemed to me that many disputes over property and assets could be eliminated if a couple first sorted a few things out. Whether the issue at hand is dividing marital assets, some common sense and good reasoning ability are in order.

As far as belongings/personal property go, I think any items brought into the marriage by one person should stay with that person. Gifts from extended family members should go to partner to whom those family members are related.

If there are children, children's belongings and furnishings should stay with them.

In most cases, once children's bedroom sets and other items have been removed from the equation, and once any gifts from extended family have been removed from the equation, what is left are bedroom sets from rooms other than the children's rooms, kitchen furniture and appliances, laundry appliances, dining room furniture, garage/yard items (snowblowers, lawnmowers, pateo furniture, etc.) and furniture from any rooms, such as offices, libraries, etc.

Of what remains there are likely to be several items that one partner doesn't want, like, or need anyway. Removing those from the equation further reduces the list of items over which to argue. Rooms that serve as office space, library space, work spaces, etc. usually are used more by one partner than the other, so if whoever has been the primary user of the office keeps those furnishings and equipment that could make sense.

If a room, such as an office, has been fairly equally shared, this is where a list of items in that room could be divided 50/50. On the other hand, saving that list for negotiating later may also make sense.

Being realistic about who will actually need any of the shared belongings makes sense. Also, however, since keeping as much of the "original" family home in tact as possible can help children from experiencing more loss than is necessary, considering leaving furniture about which neither partner particularly cares in the children's home is probably a wise idea.

If one partner doesn't plan to have a dining room in his new condo, leave the dining room set where the children will be living. Children have a way of seeing all the furniture in the house as part of a single picture. Keeping as many of the components of that single picture in one place can, again, seem less like a whole home has been torn apart. I think it's more pleasant for children to see a parent's new home and new furniture as an "addition" to their life if the new, second, residence has mostly new furniture and doesn't look like the sad remnants of once whole house.

Once the list of belongings has been reduced to those items that have been shared and that both parties want, it may be a good idea to consider which party would most be able to buy a replacement item if the other partner keeps the one they now have. If it seems it will be easier for the wife to come up with a new computer than it will for the husband, then the husband should get to keep the old one. If one partner is, for some reason, "attached" to any particular item, then why not agree that he/she will keep that.

Another guideline about whom should get one may be the style of the item. If one partner will be moving to a contemporary style home he/she may have no interest in bringing that antique desk.

Once the couple is left with a list of items which, when given to one or the other, will pack very little economic or emotional punch; that can be a good time to consider simply divide things up 50/50, according to monetary worth. Here again, however, sometimes it is kinder to the children to consider leaving as much of their original home in tact as possible. If neither partner particularly cares about the piano, the desk, or the patio furniture, it may just be more thoughtful to let it remain in the home of the children (or go with them to their new home).

Financial Assets

This is where things can be very tricky. It is generally impossible to address complicated situations with a few simple guidelines; but for the less complicated situation, the following guidelines may make sense.

My personal opinion is that money/assets should be separated into categories: Those which are associated with the couple's day-to-day/month-to-month living and maintenance; and savings and investments.

With regard to savings and investments, if one partner is the one who has built up these financial assets with his earnings, while the other partner has not worked, I think it makes sense that those assets remain with person who has built them. At the same time, I think if the person who retains those assets receives income from them (rather than having leaving them untouched for some time in the future), that income should be factored in with regard to the expectation that children should benefit from them (but only if the children are in a situation where additional money would/could make a substantial difference in the quality of a less than comfortable lifestyle). Savings and investments left in place, of course, may eventually be something from which the children benefit; so, to me, as long as the children's lifestyle is not sub-standard, it should not be required that savings and investment accounts be closed in order to contribute more money to the children's lifestyle.

Of course, children should not be left to live in a small, rented, apartment while their wealthier parent moves to a nice home and keeps all his savings and investment, so such a situation would change the picture.

I don't believe that spouses necessarily automatically deserve half of all savings and investments that were built from the income (or family gifts, inheritances) of only one partner. If, of course, the two partners have contributed to such assets then it would make sense to attempt identify percentage of individual contributions and divide assets based on that.

Something else to consider is whether one partner will need to make a large purchase as a result of the other partner's getting something like the dependable car or the washer and dryer. It may be reasonable to deduct from any savings account an amount that would allow for such a purchase before moving on to deciding how it may/may not be further divided up.

On the matter of second homes or rental properties, whether or not those are kept by one partner or sold (with the proceeds divided in some way) depends on too many factors to be able to address here. Incomes, mortgages, upkeep, who may want/need the home, etc., are just too case-specific. It would make sense, however, to keep in mind that anything that contributes to the long-term security of the partners and/or the children is always the better choice.

Then, too, there are the "negative" matters to consider dividing - mortgage/rent payments, property taxes, monthly utility bills, health insurance for all involved (but particularly, for the children), orthodontist bills, education and activities expenses for the children, etc.

The way divorces often have worked is that the person who gets custody of the children gets the "marital home", along with help paying for all those living expenses. Sometimes, in addition to help in the form of child support, the partner (who has custody of the children or not) receives additional income in the form of alimony. This may seem somewhat reasonable if the partner (usually the wife) who has custody of the children cannot earn an adequate income, or if both partners prefer a parent stay home to care for the children until they're older.

What does not seem reasonable or fair, however, is the fact that some partners must leave their children and home, earn the same modest income they've always earned, and yet pay most of the living expenses for their ex-spouse and children; while needing to pay all of their own livings expenses as well.

What is also unfair and unreasonable, however, is when one partner essentially "gets to skate" while the one who has custody of the children (or even doesn't) struggles in such poverty that it can be impossible to get out. (When people are left in extreme poverty stress can eventually damage their health and ability to function well enough to be able to have the stamina to overcome extreme obstacles.)

The problem is, of course, that if what must be divided in terms of money/income was only enough to support one home, once it has been divided everyone has to struggle. When a couple's income level is high enough to comfortable accommodate one partner's new living arrangement that isn't a problem; but financial struggles are often at the root of divorce, which means that many divorcing couples will find themselves and their children in lower income situations, or even poverty.

Since a judge cannot, obviously, magically increase the income and assets of any divorcing couple, the only thing that can/should be done is to hold off on dividing money and belongings until it is established that both partners/parents will have the basic necessities needed to be able to work and support (or contribute to the support of) a reasonable quality lifestyle for all involved. If at all possible, no division of anything should take place until it is clear that each partner (and sometimes parent) has an income and/or a job, a way to get to that job, health insurance, and a reasonable enough place to live (independently - not with relatives or in a rooming house) that he will not develop mental health issues.

Recognizing that normal, loving, parents who are separated from children may go through a life-long grieving process (particularly if children are left with a parent they feel is less capable or less attached) is important; because a parent who is going through that kind of grief and then who is ordered out of the home without regard for whether he can keep his job or find a decent place to live, is at high risk of having his hands tied when it comes to remaining a strong and effective parent.

It is often said the children are "all anyone cares about" in a divorce. When judges disregard the abillities of both parents to remain strong, productive, and effective as parents; that is not "caring only about the children".

So, when it comes to dividing things up in divorce, one of the more important things to consider diving up a little more fairly may be the heartache. As it is now, there is often a very unfair share of heartache imposed on one person, who may not have done anything whatsoever to deserve such treatment.

When divorcing partners, their attorneys, and judges claim to care only about the "best interest of the children" that will prove to be a lie if the separation agreement disregards or ties the hands of either parent, THAT is not "in the best interest of the child(ren) - because THAT is the beginning of turning what could have been just a "separated family" into a "broken" one.



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