Dividing Assets with Emotional or Sentimental Value

Dividing Assets with Emotional or Sentimental Value

Dividing Assets with Emotional or Sentimental Value

Posted in Divorce, Family Law
by Justin Van Den Heuvel

If you are in the process of getting divorced in Michigan, or if you are thinking about filing for divorce, you are probably wondering how the court will handle the distribution of marital property. Under Michigan Compiled Laws (MCL), the court divides marital property according to a theory of equitable distribution. As the statute states, this means that the court will award “all or a portion of the property, either real or personal,” in a fashion that “appears to the court to be equitable under all the circumstances of the case.” Marital property includes both debts and assets of the marriage.

In order to place a value on property, spouses typically provide a full list of marital property, and then it is usually valued according to market value. But what happens when a particular item has emotional or sentimental value? According to an article in The New York Times, dividing property actually can become most contentious in cases where sentimental items are in dispute.

What Does Equitable or Fair Mean When it Comes to Property with Sentimental Worth?

The article in The New York Times focuses on dividing estate assets following the death of a loved one, but the lessons should be just as valuable for spouses who are going through a contentious divorce in which they cannot come to an agreement about items with emotional or sentimental value. How can spouses reconcile economic value (or fair market value) and sentimental value? This is often extremely difficult to do.

When a court distributes marital property, it will almost always consider only the economic value of the property since that number is an objective one. As you might imagine, it would be incredibly difficult—if not impossible—for a court to quantify the sentimental value of, for instance, a painting owned by the couple during the marriage. Such sentimental or emotional valuations are necessarily subjective and thus do not really have a place as the court distributes marital property according to a theory of equitable distribution.

Why is it so difficult to reconcile economic value and sentimental value? Let us give you an example. Imagine that the court determines that the marital property—in terms of its economic value—should be divided roughly 60/40 between the parties. Then, imagine that one of the spouses wants to keep an antique car that she says has enormous sentimental value. Where does that sentimental value play into the court’s considerations?

Ways to Handle Sentimental Value in Difficult Family Situations

Whether dealing with the division of an estate or of marital property, there are some ways that reconciling economic and emotional values can be easier. According to the article in The New York Times, one way to handle sentimental items is to come to an agreement on them using some type of selection “tool.” With such a tool, the spouses can select items with sentimental value, going back and forth, so that the selection process is fair.

Such selection tools can also track the economic or monetary value of the items so that it can be taken into account in the rest of the property distribution process.

Seek Advice from a Grand Rapids Divorce Lawyer

Property distribution is often an extremely contentious phase of the divorce process, especially when certain marital assets have sentimental value. If you have questions about property division in Michigan, a Grand Rapids divorce attorney can help you. Contact Van Den Heuvel Law Office today.



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