Who gets to keep what in the house is a common question we are faced with as family lawyers, when advising separating couples.

‘Chattels’ is the term used to describe personal possessions in a matrimonial context. Often these are items of little value but personal significance: Grandad’s old pocket watch; the Euro 96 fully completed panini sticker album; mum’s Yorkshire pudding tin; etc etc.

But what happens when it comes to those everyday personal possessions which are expensive to replace? The television; the laptop; the coffee machine with milk frothing wand. It is no small task to fully furnish and equip a new home for the recently separated.

In many situations a couple have been separated for a period of time and so a financial agreement may simply state that the contents of the home “shall remain the absolute property of the person in whose possession they now are”. This tends to be the default position of the family courts.

There is no magical formula unfortunately and it is usually the case that the legal fees are more expensive than the items being argued over. Family lawyers are creative though. Anecdotal stories abound of coin-tossing; turn-taking through a list of the items; and putting it all up for auction and splitting the money made.

Enforcement causes even more issues. Contents will usually be dealt with in a preamble to an order, rather than the actual order itself. This means that if the items aren’t returned/delivered up the individual who has lost out cannot enforce the order through the family law court but must instead raise a breach of contract action in the civil court; usually a small claim given the likely value.

If you would like some advice about the financial implications of a divorce or dissolution of civil partnership, please speak to one of our expert family law solicitors:  Andrew Smith or Lilly Grant in our York office, Chris Burns or Sophie Arrowsmith in our Leeds office or Richard Buckley in our Sheffield office. We also have mediators who can discuss alternative ways to reach agreement through your separation.

Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.

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