Who Gets the Handbag?

By Francesca Davey

Senior Associate

An article recently reported that the increased value to designer goods during lockdown had increased the number of divorce cases coming to court to argue over ‘who gets the handbag.’ So what do you do when there are valuable items in the house but you can’t decide how to share them?

It is a common feature of negotiations that while the fundamentals, like who gets the house, are sometimes dealt with fairly swiftly, disputes over chattels can become entrenched and toxic.

Usually, Judges hate dealing with dividing up chattels because where sentimental value is involved there is not always an obvious right answer. In those cases, there is precedent to say that the item should remain with the person who bought it or had it gifted to them. This can become complicated when a gift is a family heirloom and there is a desire to keep it within the family. However, gifts are usually considered absolute, unless the recipient was told otherwise when it was given. Where items are purchased jointly, or if no agreement can be reached about who gets what, the Judge may choose to take a simplistic view and split the difference by having the item sold and the proceeds divided equally.

If the argument is about making sure that the expensive items are accounted for within the division of overall assets to ensure equality in the split, then you need to understand what the real value of the relevant items is. This is not the same as the purchase price or the insurance value, the Court will want to know what you could realistically sell an item for if it came down to liquidising it for cash. Where some items like artwork are expected to increase in value over time, it might be expected that jewellery does the same, but bear in mind that wedding jewellery loses a lot of value because of the perceived stigma of second hand ‘divorce diamonds’ in the market.

If there is any query about how much something is worth, you should instruct an expert with relevant valuation experience to tell you what the market value is or any particular item and can advise on what value may be lost if a collection is divided up. You may need a different expert for each category of item so that you are getting the most expert view. The larger auction houses will often be able to provide all of the relevant expertise in-house. You can then rely on these values as a base for negotiating a sensible and fair division to equalise assets between the parties. 

As a starting point, you would only look at items worth over £500, but if going to the expense of paying an expert to value your things, then you want to make sure that the exercise is cost-effective, and it should be kept proportionate and relevant. The exercise is not about putting a value on every household item.

Unfortunately, it is a fact that a divorcing couple can spend a lot of time and money in these kind of disputes and it is always important to keep an eye on whether the value of the things you are arguing over is worth what you are spending on it.

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