Who has the contents of the matrimonial home?

When a couple divorce then obviously one or both of them will leave the former matrimonial home. What should happen to the home will of course have to be decided, but who has its contents?

It is an important issue. At least one of the parties will have to rehouse themselves, and unless they move into accommodation that is already furnished, they will want a share of the contents of the former matrimonial home. And there may be other reasons for wanting particular items, such as their sentimental value.

Sorting out what should happen to the contents of the former matrimonial home can often be a matter of serious and expensive dispute, so here are a few guidelines as to how to resolve who should have what.

Agree if you can!

The first and most important piece of advice is to agree the division of the contents with your (former) spouse if you possibly can.

If you can’t agree then one or both parties will have to ask the court to decide who should have what. And that will obviously entail expensive and time-consuming court proceedings.

It must be understood that the court will only be interested in the current, second-hand, value of the contents. The contents of the house may have cost many thousands of pounds to buy, but the second-hand value of the entire contents of the average family home may only be worth a few hundred pounds, unless there are items of particular value, more about which in a moment.

So if you are arguing over the division of items that are only worth a few hundred pounds it is obviously not worth spending considerably more than that to have the court resolve the argument for you.

That advice may of course change if there are items of particular value, such as paintings or pieces of antique furniture. But even then it is still better to agree who should have what (or simply that the items should be sold and their proceeds divided), rather than wait for the court to decide.

So how do you go about agreeing the division of the contents? After all, you are talking about many items, not just one.

Make a list

A good way to start is to make a list of all of the items in the matrimonial home, perhaps sorted in accordance with which room they are in. (Such a list, including item values, would be required by the court if the court were asked to decide who has what.)

Once the list has been prepared and agreed by both parties, each of them can go through it marking which items they want. It may well be that this will show that only some of the items are actually in dispute, making it easier to reach agreement (or to know what the court has to decide, if agreement can’t be reached).

Hopefully, the parties will be able to agree the division of the items that remain in dispute, perhaps by arranging that each party is left with items of a similar total value. And if one party’s items are worth considerably more than those that the other party will keep, perhaps a cash adjustment could be agreed.

Items needed for children

There is one further consideration to be taken into account when deciding upon the division of the contents of the former matrimonial home: where there are dependent children, they will need certain items.

These items might include beds, chairs, TVs, computers, or even gaming consoles.

Now, if the children will be sharing their time between both parents then their needs will obviously be the same in both households. But if the children are to be living only, or primarily, with one parent, then the court would expect that parent to have most, or even all, of the items needed by the children.

In the vast majority of cases the parties are able to agree the division of the contents of their former home directly between themselves, but if they are not able to do so they should consult expert family lawyers, who should help them to reach agreement, rather than having to go to court.