The end of a relationship is often far from easy, especially if you were sharing a home together.
Aside from the emotional impact of a split, one of the trickiest parts of breaking up can be deciding who gets to keep any possessions you own jointly. After all, you’ll each need furniture and other items when you start living separately.
Although it’s important to try to remain amicable through the process and be willing to compromise, this is often easier said than done. Here are our recommendations for dividing your things as painlessly as possible during a break-up.
Dividing your possessions
There will probably be plenty of items around your home where it’s just a matter of common sense on who should keep them, such as personal possessions you each owned before moving in together, your clothes, or items that only one of you has any use for.
However, things can get more difficult when it comes to items you’ve perhaps bought together over the course of the relationship, or that you both want to hold onto. This may include sofas, beds, household tools or kitchenware, or shared collections you both treasure, such as books, music, or DVDs.
With these items, it’s important to take a practical approach if you can. Make a list, and discuss who should keep what between the two of you. This is when a compromise is really important – you have lives to live after you separate, so think about both your individual needs. If there is something which you bought or use a lot but you know that your partner needs more or is particularly attached to, letting them keep it is probably the right thing to do, and easier in the long run.
For things such as furniture, think about where you will both be living after the separation is completed. Consider whether one of you is moving to an unfurnished property and will benefit from these items more. You may have agreed when you bought a joint item of furniture such as a new bed that the other would buy the remaining share, minus wear and tear, in this situation anyway. If not, this could be a possibility, depending on your individual financial circumstances.
There may well, however, be things that neither of you want to give up. One solution here could be to write a list of them and take it in turns to choose from these until they’re all claimed.
In the case of a marriage, some couples sign a document before marriage known as a prenuptial agreement, or “prenup”. These are used to decide how assets will get divided in the event of divorce. If you and your ex signed one of these before getting married then you will need to refer to it during divorce proceedings.
Alternatively, you may have signed a cohabitation agreement if you lived together as an unmarried couple, which may also have detailed how items bought together, for example, may be divided in the event of a split. You can refer back to either of these documents to see if there is wording around this topic.
Dividing your valuables
For more valuable objects, such as paintings, jewellery and other collectibles, you might both be determined to keep them, making decisions far more difficult.
As a starting point, it could be worth getting these objects valued by an expert if you don’t know their exact worth, though you’ll have to pay for this service.
Once you have the actual numbers, it might be easier to divide your valuables up fairly by splitting them in relation to their value. In some cases – such as during divorce, where both parties are supposed to leave with equal financial assets – it is recommended or even required that your valuables be sold and you split the proceeds.
Agreeing who keeps the car
If you share a car, then this is probably one of the most valuable things you’ll have owned as a couple.
As with household items, it is generally best to take into account who has the most need for the car going forwards. If you work from home, cycle regularly, or will be living in a place with good transport links then you may not need it as much, and might have more reason to part with it. On the other hand, if you rely on the car to get around or need to be out of town more frequently, then you have a strong case for keeping it. Either way, if you bought the car jointly, you might want to get it valued as cars depreciate in value quickly, and the person keeping the car could perhaps pay a sum of money towards the cost of the remaining share.
If you have children who need to be driven around regularly then it makes sense for the car to go to whoever will have regular custody of them. If you intend for them to move between both households frequently – say, staying with one of you during the week and one of you at the weekends – then you could take it in turns having the car for these times as well, provided it isn’t too much of a hassle. This could also just be a temporary measure until one of you can buy a new car.
Remember to factor in loan repayments and insurance payments on the car when deciding who will be responsible for it going forward.
Agreeing who keeps your pets
Pets are part of the family, and who keeps the pet can be an emotional subject. Yet pets will often tend to be closer to one member of a couple than the other, so deciding who keeps them may be a no-brainer. Alternatively, if one of you owned the pet before you moved in together and continued to pay for their food and welfare, then that also makes things simple, as they will keep the pet.
If you are both keen to hang onto them then the most important thing to think about is the pet’s welfare. Take the pet’s needs – feeding, space, trips to the vet, any other regular duties such as walks or cleaning a tank or cage – into account, and think about who is better equipped to provide these going forwards. You could agree to a visiting arrangement, for example, at least for a while, or for one of you to care for the pet when the other is away – but, of course, this depends on whether you’ve ended on amicable terms, and can be difficult.
Bear in mind that if you have children who are particularly attached to the pets then it makes sense not to separate them if you can avoid it.
Decisions around who gets what will often depend on how you divide your home during a split. If you’re having trouble with this part of the process and want to know more about your options, check out our articles Splitting the family home and mortgage during divorce, dissolution or separation or Your rights to a rented home during divorce, dissolution or separation.