Personal Property Issues in Family Court
Personal property issues are perhaps the most frustrating for Family Court practitioners and Family Court judges. I was reminded of this today when an old story from 1999 began circulating on Facebook. The story can be found here: http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/1999/nov/05/judge-plays-solomon-with-beanie-babies/
We have had similar cases in Anderson, South Carolina.
While sad, and a little amusing, the story shows us just how emotional, and ridiculous, Family Court disputes over personal property can get. The Beanie Baby craze of the 1990s set the stage for this. But the property could be anything. I have had disputes over lawn mowers that didn’t even run. I have had clients “win” certain property, only to then refuse to pick it up from their former spouse. The bottom line is that in most cases, it’s not about the property. It’s about sticking it to the other party, or more simply the perception of sticking it to the other party. The judge in the Beanie Baby case was quoted as saying that this is about control. He is correct. The pain of divorce causes some people to have a strong desire to “show him/her who is the boss.” That “showing” comes in the form of controlling otherwise worthless personal property.
Using the Beanie Baby case as an example, the media reported the collection was worth between $2500 and $5000 in 1999. Assuming those numbers are accurate, either party could have bought the other’s interest in the collection for half that amount and saved themselves the eternal humiliation that internet news provides. The cash would have been a better investment, in my opinion, than some stuffed animals turned out to be.
This is not the Mona Lisa or some priceless work of art. It’s not even a pet, which while legally property, are often viewed with more emotion due to their being living creatures. I am hard pressed to think of a situation in which I would advise a client to subject him or herself to the media scrutiny that these folks faced in dividing their Beanie Babies.
Legal fees in fighting over personal property are another real, valid consideration. The “hearing” to divide the Beanie Babies took about 10 minutes. The preparation, research, list making and posturing likely done by the attorneys probably cost each party at least $1000. So before I advise a client to fight over washing machines, furniture, Dale Earnhardt pictures, collectibles or any item of personal property, I ask the client what it would cost to just go and buy a new item. The answer is usually less than the attorney fees. A wise client will buy a new coffee maker for $100 rather than spending $500 to fight over the old one. I advise my clients that cash is preferable to “stuff”, 99.99% of the time.
But when it’s about the control, not the property, the legal fees don’t matter to the client. Those are the cases that make money for attorneys. In those situations, attorneys are happy to wage the battle for the Beanie Babies.
If you have a personal property situation that you’d like to discuss, you can reach me at: email@example.com