Good on you Russell Crowe for tackling the issue that is often the curse of the divorce settlement....all the stuff, baggage and chattels. Admittedly, his decision post-divorce was allegedly to help finance the unhappy event but he should become a role model in this often forgotten outpost of the divorce settlement.
Usually, this is the last hurdle to be faced and often the straw that breaks the negotiating camel’s back as a consequence - divorcing couples really get serious over the dinner service, the marital bed, the dog and the well, the valuable things.
Income, investments, companies and real property are always hard fought over. The negotiations often range over months and are crystallised at round table meetings or in court led sessions. There is give and take, grandstanding and bluff and often the best of agreements that to quote the cliché requires “no one to go away happy” - and just as the lawyers are thinking about their next case or the nearest bar, someone raises the chattels the accumulated stuff of 20 years. Surely, this can be sorted out by the couple directly? No way, this is the time to get to meet the court cleaners and to understand that a day of compromise comes at a cost. The resentment of giving comes to the boil over things often of little value.
I have seen lawyers writing personal cheques for a replacement Harrods dinner service, the last obstacle between settlement (and banking the brief fee early) and another day of negotiations. I have as a junior been assigned post-settlement to go to a country house to help the couple agree the division of its contents, only to be taken to that drawer in the kitchen containing string and loyalty cards and be told that “nothing in here is agreed”.
The problem of leaving court or the negotiations without this last aspect resolved is that the legal fees clock keeps ticking.
So what are the solutions?
- Keep a record of what there is to argue about. I understand that the Generation Game is making a comeback, however, if you left the marital home in disgrace or in a hurry, it may be difficult to remember what you had until it’s too late. Everyone has a camera on their phone, so make a record.
- Make a list of what you have and what you want and ask your lawyers to get it across early for agreement. Don’t leave this for resolving at the end of the process when the lawyers have less to negotiate for.
- Think about employing a divorce consultant to help you deal with this aspect as their costs will be significantly lower than your lawyers. Your divorce lawyer can recommend options for you to consider, e.g. Laura Rosefield.
- Make a list of what you want and suggest that your spouse chooses first (if you are feeling generous) and then take it in turns until you are down to the charity or skip items.
- Consider getting the more significant items valued and be prepared to discover that the second hand value of items such as jewellery are rarely what you hoped. Insurance valuations are usually replacement values and not too useful in estimating actual value.
- Don’t be too generous. Replacing a life time’s worth of stuff can be really expensive - clients regularly underestimate the cost amid the drama and the idea of replacing an old life with a new one.
- Consider a “shared care” arrangement for the more sentimentally important items. I remember an antique Buddha, which probably still moves annually from one former spouse to the other.
- Remember your children. The idea of sentimental objects falling into the hands of a step mother/father might be too controversial. Agree with your former spouse to make a Will post-divorce to ensure these items pass in a way that has been agreed.
- And then there is the Crowe solution…..