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Know What You Have Before Dividing It

Two Sides of the Coin


Two Sides of the Coin is a series of articles written by Ian Steinberg, a matrimonial and family law attorney, in conjunction with an array of other professionals from different industries. The series provides insights into issues from the perspective of each party to a divorce. Each article provides readers with practice tips that are helpful when navigating through the divorce process.

Know What You Have Before Dividing It

By Ian Steinberg, Esq. and Carolyn Dow

Throughout the course of a marriage, a couple may accumulate a fair amount of assets, whether they be real estate, financial assets, or personal property. One of the major aspects of the divorce process requires the parties to divide up these assets. Although the division of nearly all of the couple’s assets, such as bank accounts, retirement accounts, personal property and real estate require negotiation, certain assets are more challenging to divide than another. Specifically, personal property and real estate prove more difficult, since couples do not develop an emotional connection to a bank account in the same way they do with a home, a piece of artwork, or sentimental items.

While determining how to divide the marital residence is one of the more challenging aspects of the divorce process, once that decision has been made, the next step is determining how to divide the contents of the home. It is important to have a well-thought-out plan as to how to move forward with the challenging task of splitting the items that have been amassed over the course of the marriage.

Below are some tips to assist in making this process as smooth as possible.

  1. Create a Digital Household Inventory

Dealing with the separation of possessions in a household often will bring up strong emotions for a divorcing couple. Whether you are the spouse staying in the home, the one vacating, or you collectively made the decision to sell, it is important to itemize the contents of the home. The most efficient way to do this is through an inventory. In order to create this inventory, it will be helpful to organize and sort everything throughout the home in clear and separate categories. These categories should include: artwork, books, silver, crystal, furniture and other valuables. All the spaces in the home need to be inventoried including closets, basements and other storage areas.

As the non-monied spouse, this is another way to find additional monetary value in the home that may be helpful towards starting the next phase of your life. If you are the monied spouse, perhaps offering your soon-to-be-ex a large share of the contents of the marital home (especially if remaining in the marital residence) will allow you to retain other assets.

This inventory serves as a useful tool and is an important document to share with the trusted advisors, especially matrimonial attorneys. It also helps clarify decisions on whether to discard, sell, donate or relocate certain items.

  1. Have a Plan

Once you have completed the inventory of the soon-to-be former marital residence, it is time to make a plan for how the transition will take place. While this might sound like simple advice, planning ahead and making the necessary arrangements is crucial to finalizing the transition.

Whether you are the spouse who is remaining in the home or the one vacating, it is often helpful to set expectations and deadlines for milestone events. This also applies in situations in which both parties are vacating the marital residence. The first place to start is to determine moving/separation dates and work backwards from there.

Try and be flexible as unforeseen events may unfold due to factors outside of one’s control. While it may be challenging to remain amicable during the divorce process, it is important to remember that you are joint owners of an asset that needs to be divided. Removing the emotion and remaining flexible will allow you to preserve if even the best laid plan falls through due to factors outside of your control.

3. Prepare Your Papers, Documents and Photos

One of the most important things you can do early in the process is sort through papers, financial documents, insurances, and tax returns so that your trusted advisors, including your matrimonial attorney, can have them readily accessible. A fair amount of this information may be available online, however, some documents (especially older ones) may be scattered in boxes around the home. For example, receipts for big ticket items such as artwork and furniture, which will be important when determining the value for purposes of dividing the items. If you were the spouse that was not typically in charge of day-to-day receipts and other items, this can prove especially helpful. Furthermore, if you are the spouse vacating the residence, this is your opportunity to obtain these documents.

It is important to consider how you will divide items for which you only have one copy, as both spouses may want to retain possession. Things such as memorabilia, photo albums, and family home videos can often become a point of contention. These items however can often be scanned, digitized or duplicated so that both parties can keep them. If you are the spouse who is moving into a new home, having these mementos will hopefully make your new place feel like home, especially for your children. While viewing photos and other family relics may be upsetting, down the road, you are likely to be happy you saved them.

4. New Home Site Visit

Whenever possible, and especially if you are using the services of a professional organizer, a visit to a new residence is strongly encouraged. Doing so will help determine how much room is there for certain furnishings and also available storage. Having as much information as possible is essential when going through the divorce process, and visiting your new residence provides you with just that. Once you have decided which household items you are taking with you, arranging for an organizer to unpack and set up belongings in the new home can go a long way towards making you feel settled in.

Dividing the contents of the former marital home is not an easy task. By following these tips and working with the right professionals, you will be able to do so more easily, while hopefully finding additional monetary value and peace along the way.

Ian Steinberg is a matrimonial and family law attorney with Berkman Bottger Newman & Schein. He can be reached by email at or by phone at (212) 867-9123. Carolyn Dow heads business development for Seriatim Inc. For over 25 years, Seriatim has eased the stress of moving for their clients, by handling life with compassion, integrity and utmost attention to detail. Carolyn can be reached at or by phone at 212-580-2267.

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