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How to Price the Worth of Household Goods for a Divorce

by Fraser Sherman

When you and your spouse divorce, you have to divide or dispose of your household goods too. You can pay your attorneys to work this out, or do it yourselves. Pacific Divorce Management says do-it-yourself is the better option because legal fees could add up to more than the cost of the items.

Furniture and Appliances

The price you assign your furniture and appliances should be their fair market value. If you have any furniture that's brand new, you can use the purchase price. If it's a few months or a few years since you bought it, you can assume it's worth less than you paid for it.

You can have the furniture professionally appraised, but this can cost more than the furniture is worth. For a do-it-yourself approach, estimate what you'd pay for your couch or table if you saw it in a second-hand furniture store.

The Sullivan Law Firm says one way to tell you've set the right price is to imagine how you'd feel if you or your spouse received the furniture. If, say, you value the living room recliner at $100, whoever gets the recliner will get $100 less of cash or other marital assets. If you're OK with that no matter which of you receives the recliner in the settlement, the price is one you can live with.

Pots and Pans

Sullivan Law says you don't have to itemize every dish, every pot and every knife and fork. Simply list them in bulk -- "cooking utensils," "plates," "storage containers" -- and set the value the same way you do the furniture.

Tips

  • You can price most other items -- televisions, books, old videotapes --the same way as kitchen items and furniture. Unless they're new or collectible, their fair market value is well below the purchase price.

Collectibles

Unlike most household goods, collectibles -- art, Star Wars action figures, coins, stamps, first-edition Tolstoy novels -- may be worth more than when you purchased them. A valuable collection or even a single fine antique can be worth enough to make a big difference to the overall property division.

Although there are price guides to many types of collectibles, accurate pricing is tricky. If you have the collection professionally appraised, you don't have to worry about under- or overestimating the value. A professional opinion may make it easier for you and your spouse to agree on the value.

Clothing

The Tennessee Bar Association says divorce judges typically don't worry about clothing and accessories. Each spouse gets to keep their own clothes, hats, shoes and accessories and similar items, and the court doesn't add them to the asset ledger. However, if one of you has something exceptional -- a new designer gown, a $5,000 watch -- those assets should be factored in. You may need an appraiser to figure out what such assets are really worth.

Tips

  • Individual states may have specific laws or court precedents that impose special rules for particular assets. Your attorney can inform you if there are any unusual valuation rules you need to follow.

Resolving Disputes

If you and your spouse agree on what values to set for your household goods, the court probably will sign off on it. Attorney Brian Vertz says no family court judge wants to preside over dividing pots, pans, books and DVDs. If you and your spouse can agree to what's a fair division, the court won't usually worry whether, say, the Dutch oven is really worth more than the wok.

If you can't agree, Pacific Divorce Management suggests averaging: Take your spouse's figure and your figure and split the difference.

About the Author

Author of two film reference books, "Cyborgs, Santa Claus and Satan" and "The Wizard of Oz Catalog." Published in Air & Space, Backpacker, Newsweek, The Writer, and multiple trade journals (can fax samples if requested, don't have them available digitally)