How will our household contents or chattles be divided

By Vanessa Lloyd Platt
Lloyd Platt & Co

During the course of the divorce, household contents are normally left to the last minute if a house has to be sold or transferred. This does not mean that household contents cannot become the subject matter of litigation.

The basic rule in relation to household contents is that if presents have been given for weddings etc, then normally they are given back to the party whose family or friends provided them. This is all well and good when this applies to chattels, although sometimes parties can become very attached to chattels and want to keep them. These can include white goods in the home, sofas, televisions, beds, bedding, cutlery, crockery etc. It can also descend into much smaller items to become a matter of principle. Courts are very reluctant to get into arguments concerning chattels.

We all know that principles can become exceedingly expensive, and in most cases the courts will ask that the parties agree to items to be divided between them. However, if the parties simply cannot agree there are other methods for dealing with this namely:

  • a) Should a schedule of chattels be drawn up between the parties and then negotiated through solicitors or mediators?
  • b) Can pets be regarded as chattels? The answer to this is that in law pets are regarded as chattels and treated in the same way as a fridge/freezer, television etc. Pets are therefore dealt with in a way where the Court will look at who provided the money for the purpose of the chattel and will consider that that person should be awarded the pet. However, many disputes have recently arisen over division of pets if children become attached to them.

Lawyers would suggest that the parties should try, if at all possible, to agree a schedule of chattels either videoing them or taking photographs of them. Sometimes chattels consist of collections of silver, pictures, or collections of many kinds. If the chattels cannot be agreed that the matter will be referred to court.

In most cases chattels are capable of being divided by agreement and accordingly the courts are not often troubled with the division. However, sometimes the value of items can be brought into account, for example if there is a very expensive Chanel or handbag collection, or a very valuable wine collection acquired by the husband over a period of time.

Items that have been brought into a marriage by one party will usually be retained by them. Items that are personal property of one party i.e. books, clothes etc will normally be retained by that party.

Jointly owned properties are more difficult but there are ways in which division can be achieved. For example, a list of items can be created, then a coin can sometimes be tossed and the winner can select an item which can rotate until all items have been selected. If the chattels have value and they are needed to meet the needs of one of the parties, the court could order their sale to raise funds to meet those needs. Courts generally only require items above £500 or higher to be taken into account.

There are difficulties that the court can also encounter in dealing with chattels. One area that often comes into account is the question of the engagement ring. In the Law Reform Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1970 Section 3(2) of the Act provides that engagement rings are presumed to be an absolute gift and to be retained by the recipient. There is an exception to this if the item was a family heirloom that was intended to be passed through the generations, and it will then be argued that it should be returned.

If the parties cannot reach agreement over contents, then a Judge will have to determine the position. The Courts can divide the items in whatever manner it chooses. Courts are not necessarily interested in sentimental attachment.

This is particularly so if the value of the items are outweighed by the cost of the lawyers arguing. It is very important that parties understand the commercial value of what they are arguing about so that they sensibly work out how matters can be dealt with.

There have been cases where parties were arguing for months about who should keep the photo albums. These can be easily replicated with agreement being reached over the cost of replication. Sometimes the Judge will simply order that everything should be sold in order to reach a fair outcome. With artwork it is often the case that the court will invite the parties to pick one or two items if agreement cannot be agreed and order the remaining pictures to be sold.

If you are in a quandary about how your chattels should be divided, or if there might be a dispute concerning your loved pet, please do not hesitate to get in contact with Lloyd Platt & Co who have much experience in dealing with such cases.

If you want to discuss any aspect of divorce and separation, please fill in our form below, call us on 0208 343 2998 or click to contact our divorce lawyers in London.

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