How to divide your possessions on separation

It’s a bit of a cliché that couples who separate end up arguing about who gets to keep the pet(s), the favourite sofa or the music collection. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Try and agree as much as you can with your ex-partner – and be prepared to compromise.

Dividing personal possessions

It’s likely that one or both of you have a significant emotional attachment to your possessions, such as your furniture, shared family car or music collection. It may be hard if you can’t keep things that you believe you’re entitled to, but try and reach an agreement, if you can. Use mediation if necessary.

When thinking about furniture and cars, start by working out where you both will live after you separate. Will you both need to furnish new properties? If so, dividing the furniture and big appliances so that you each keep some or buy some new ones can be a fair approach.

Go through the house, the garden shed and the garage and attic, and prepare a list of what’s there. Then try to agree who gets as many of the items as you can. There may be some things you can’t agree on. As a last resort, you could pick alternately from a list of what is left.

Dividing possessions if you’ve been cohabiting

If you’re dividing items you’ve bought while you’ve been together and you can’t agree who should get what, it’s useful to know what the law says. In general terms:

  • the person who bought the item owns it
  • If you bought something between you, you own it between you – if one of you paid more towards it than the other, it would be assumed you’d divide it like that (which would mean, in practice, that one would buy the other out)
  • if you have been given something as a present, you’re able to keep it

Agreeing who keeps the car

One of you could keep the family car, perhaps because of work commitments, in exchange for giving up other household possessions. But consider if you have an outstanding loan on the car and who will be responsible for making repayments.

Sorting out jewellery, paintings and collectibles

It may be worth getting an expert valuation if you have a joint collection of valuables, such as jewellery, paintings or collectibles. You are likely to have to pay for this service.

If you’re divorcing or dissolving your civil partnership, rather than separating as cohabiting partners, such collections could be taken into account as part of the ‘pot’ of assets to be divided, unless they are of very low value. It is much better if you and your husband, wife or civil partner can agree how this should be divided.

Agreeing who keeps your pets

It’s best if you and your ex-partner can agree who should keep any family pets. Try and put the welfare of your pet first. You may feel that it should be with you, but that may not be the best solution.

  • If you have children and they are attached to your pet, it may make sense to arrange things so they can see it as much as possible. Wherever possible, try not to separate children and pets.
  • Don’t forget to work out whether you will be able to afford to keep the pet after you split up. Pets can be costly. It’s not only the cost of food that you have to budget for, but vet’s bills, which can be expensive unless you have pet insurance.
  • Pets take time to look after. Make sure whoever plans to take it on will have time to exercise it and – if you’re moving – that your new home will be suitable.
Find out about pet insurance in our article Do you need pet insurance?

What the courts would do about your pets

If you and your ex-partner are getting divorced or dissolving your civil partnership, and you can’t agree what should happen to your pets, you could ask the court to decide who should keep them.

It’s not something the courts generally like to spend time deciding and you’d find your pets would be treated like any other financial asset.

That means that the court could order that the pet:

  • should be looked after by one or other of you
  • splits its time between both owners

Courts don’t have to take the welfare of the pet into account. That means that, even if the pet could find it stressful to be moved to a new home, the court may still order this.

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