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Who Gets the Sofa?: Dividing Personal Property in a Divorce

When you’ve been married for any length of time, you accumulate “stuff,” and the longer you’re married, the more “stuff” you typically have. If you divorce, dividing many of the items may not be problematic, but in many cases, there are at least a handful of things that both parties want. Obviously, the preferred option is to compromise and come to an agreement, but sometimes that just isn't possible.

To be clear, we are talking about personal property that is marital. Marital property is essentially anything that the two of you acquired during the marriage that wasn’t a gift or inheritance. Personal property includes things like silverware, sofas, collectibles, and televisions – basically everything that isn’t a house, vehicle, or bank/retirement/stock account

So, how does this property get valued and divided when you can’t agree? Parties, of course, can agree to any value they wish. The Minnesota courts use “fair market value,” which is what a person with whom you don’t have a relationship would pay for the item during an “arm’s length transaction.” That said, courts DO NOT like to deal with dividing personal property and the almost certain response from the court will be to order the items sold and the proceeds divided between you. If it isn’t the items, but the value, that interests you, this may be fine; on the other hand, if it is truly the specific items that you want, this is not the best option.

Two other approaches are typically used: arbitration and bidding. In arbitration, you hire someone to go through the list of items with you, listen to your arguments, and make a decision. In bidding, you each make a list of the disputed items and how much you are willing to pay for each. You then give the lists to a neutral party (typically your attorney), and you are awarded the items for which you were the high bidder. The total winning bids for each person are totaled, and the person with the highest total pays the other person the difference between the two total bids. This is generally the most cost-effective option.

To discuss property division, or any other family law matter, call Kruse Family Law PLLC at 612.231.9865, or email

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