Characterization and Division of Furniture and Furnishings

Family law courts are reluctant to spend their limited time and resources dividing furniture and furnishings. Courts are impacted due to budget constraints and simply do not have the resources to address these issues. Clients usually know the relative value (garage sale prices are generally used) of their furniture and furnishings and which items they value more than others.  Frequently, clients are able to agree upon a division of these items without the assistance of counsel or appraisers.

Example: Division of Furniture and Furnishings Inventory

Inventory Example

Procedures and Solutions

Parties may utilize the “coin-flip alternate selection” method to divide these assets.  The winner of the coin-flip makes the first selection. The parties rotate selections until the division is complete. The selections can be made item by item or room by room.

One or both parties may not believe that an “alternate selection” is equitable if one particular item is significantly more valuable than any other single item. Items of significant value may be addressed separately. Alternatively, the selection may proceed with one party receiving the first item, the other party receiving the next two items, and the remaining items being selected on an alternate selection process.

If the parties are unable to divide the items between themselves, there are other ways to divide the furniture and furnishings:

  • a “Special Master” is a lawyer or other professional appointed by the court to  assist with the division. Generally, the parties’ lawyers are not present during a Special Master proceeding. The Special Master, with input from the parties, makes recommendations to the court regarding characterization, valuation and division of the items of personal property. These recommendations are generally incorporated by the judge into a Supplemental Judgment on Reserve Issues.
  • Appraisers are commonly used to value antiques, art, collectibles and other valuable items.  The parties may use the appraised  values to:
    • buy or sell all of the items from/to the other party
    • divide the items room by room
    • divide the items one by one
    • establish values for a sale to a third party or at an auction
  • Often parties wait until the end of the case to address the division of these items.  It may make economic sense to attempt to divide these items early in the process.  If lawyers are required to deal with fewer issues, they will spend less time on the case and the overall fees will be lower.