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Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

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Dividing up household contents following the breakdown of a relationship can be a daunting and emotionally charged task. It is, however, very expensive to involve lawyers in this process. Legal fees quickly add up and can even exceed the value of the contents in dispute. As such, most lawyers will advise their clients to make their best efforts to undertake this task independent of counsel. Of course, where parties own items of significant value, such as antiques, art or other collectibles, it is prudent to involve lawyers and/or other third-party professionals such as valuators and appraisers in the process to ensure that the items are properly valued and fairly divided amongst the parties.

The following are ideas for dividing household contents fairly and efficiently:

General Household Contents

  • Each party makes a list of the household items that they wish to keep
  • The parties then exchange lists
  • The items that do not appear on the other party’s list may be retained by the requesting party, unless there is further dispute;
  • The parties then make a second list of the items that appear on both lists or are otherwise in dispute;
  • The parties’ then take turns selecting items from the second list until the remaining items have been divided (we suggest flipping a coin to determine who picks first)

Items of Sentimental Value

Items of sentimental value such as family photographs, albums and home movies are often a source of considerable strife and argument in the division of contents. Yet, there is no reason why both parties cannot retain these memories should they wish to.

For example, one party may keep the original photographs, albums and movies and arrange and pay for scans and/or copies to be made for the other party. In the alternative, both parties can pay to have scans and/or copies of the original photographs, albums or movies made for themselves. The originals may then be held for or passed on to the parties’ child or children.

If the parties cannot agree to the division of other treasured or sentimental items they may wish to consider whether it would be appropriate to set aside the item or items for their child or children. For example, the parties may agree to set aside particular treasured items such as art, Judaica or jewellery, to be gifted to the child or children on the occasion of an agreed upon milestone, such as a child’s Bar Mitzvah/Confirmation, graduation from high school/university, or marriage.

About the Author

Sarah was called to the bar in 2015, after completing her articles at an established family law firm in downtown Toronto. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, a Master of Fine Arts from the State University of New York at New Paltz, and a Juris Doctor from Osgoode Hall Law School.

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