Why Arguing Over Personal Property Division is a Non-Starter for your Divorce Lawyer (unless you are Russell Crowe)

Personal property division in a divorce case has taken a rare turn in the spotlight in recent weeks. Though the issue of who gets to keep the pots and pans and who holds on to the framed Dogs Playing Poker can be a massive thorn in the side of any family law attorney, when it comes out of a celebrity divorce case, that issue can take on special significance.

Ordinarily, arguing about personal property is a non-starter with your divorce lawyer. I have on countless occasions advised my clients that – even though the miscellaneous “stuff” (for lack of a better term) a couple has accumulated over the years has some sentimental value to either or both parties, society at large does not share that perspective.

When we value assets to ensure that the community property estate is divided equally, we assign “garage sale” or “Craig’s List” values to property that may be imbued with personal value that only comes with sentimentality or cherished memories associated with particular items.

But the family courts do not barter in sentimentality.

If the parties cannot agree on the value of an item, the court will frequently default to a simple sale and order that the parties split the proceeds equally – hence “garage sale” value. And prices fetched at a garage sale are going to come nowhere near to replacement value.

Unless you’re Russell Crowe, that is, and you have amassed a sizable collection of memorabilia from years of global movie-making success.

Instead of the run of the mill “I pick/You pick” method of personal property division, or hosting a yard sale, Mr. Crowe and his former spouse have organized an auction to dispose of a variety of items accumulated during their marriage, some of which will likely fetch a tidy sum (I’m looking at you, Armor worn by Maximus in Gladiator). On April 7, 2018, Sotheby’s in Australia will preside over this celebration of celebrity tchotchkes in what the current and former Crowes (brilliantly) call “Russell Crowe: The Art of Divorce.”

Though I am personally intrigued by the concept of personal property division by auction, not too many of my clients are likely to have anything Sotheby’s would be interested in selling. So kudos to the Crowes for taking what can be a difficult and largely fruitless argument over how much the silverware is worth and turning it into a fascinating spectacle and a real money-making opportunity.

For those of you who are not Russell Crowe, though, please tread carefully when it comes to personal property divisionthe attorney’s fees you incur in arguing over your “stuff” will likely exceed the value you could get selling it to the bargain-hunters cruising your neighborhood early on a Saturday morning.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Neil M. E. Forester is Managing Shareholder of FORESTER PURCELL STOWELL PC, a Northern California law firm focused exclusively on specialized counsel for complex divorce and family law issues. He is recognized by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization as a Certified Family Law Specialist. Neil regularly represents business owners, professionals, and other high net worth individuals (or their spouses) in divorce, premarital agreements, and related actions. Beyond his legal practice, Neil serves as Board Chair for WEAVE and NorCal Boxer Rescue. He can be reached at info@foresterpurcell.com or 916 293 4000. This information is general in nature and should not be construed as legal advice.
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