How does a court deal with furniture?
Who gets the Thermomix? Who gets the new lounge? Dividing personal items is often very difficult. So what does the court do when parties can’t agree?
In family law property settlements, ‘property’ has a very broad definition. It definitely includes furniture, no matter who may have purchased it during the relationship.
It is also important to understand that the court values ‘furniture and contents’ on a second-hand dealer basis and that is significantly lower than an insurance value. The total contents of the average home (excluding antiques and collections) would therefore rarely be valued over $10,000.
The court is also very reluctant to be involved in how furniture and household items are to be divided. If you can’t reach an agreement, the court will often adopt a “two list” approach where one party will draft the two lists dividing the items, and the other party will choose one of the lists.
The court may intervene for particular items where it is clear that they belong to one of the parties (as a gift or inheritance) but in nearly all cases the parties themselves need to agree.
In the worst-case scenario, if there can’t be an agreement, this involves the court ordering that all items be sold and the proceeds divided.
If parties cannot agree on the value of an item of property, a qualified valuer should value it. The valuer needs to provide an affidavit attaching their valuation report. The court will normally require evidence of the value of property, and market appraisals cannot usually be used as evidence of value.
In a recent court case, the trial judge ordered that each spouse retain the assets that they held in their possession. The result of this was that the wife would retain a number of Persian carpets that remained in the former matrimonial home in which she was living. The husband appealed the judgement on the basis that the judge had failed to take into account the value of the carpets in the property split.
The appeal court held that if a party seeks that a value for furniture be included in a property settlement, the onus lies on that party to put evidence before the court. The husband had not obtained any valuation at the trial and the appeal was, therefore, dismissed.
The case highlights the importance of obtaining a valuation from an expert if you want to assert a value for an item of furniture, where the value of the furniture is in dispute.