Can I pitch it? Disposing of a Former Spouse’s Possessions
Last week I wrote “We’re officially separated can I change the locks on the house” about something that frequently arises when spouses are common-law partners decide to separate: The question of whether the partner who remains in the home is entitled to change the locks in order to exclude the other partner. (And the answer, generally speaking, is “no”).
A related question is whether each separated partner is entitled to dispose of property that belong to the other, where for some reason they remain in possession of the other person’s goods after the split.
A common scenario is where the break-up happens quickly, and one partner moves out of the formerly-shared home virtually overnight. He or she may have taken any important personal items at the time (or may have made arrangements to come back for them soon after) but once the final split happens and the dust has settled, the non-essential personal items (such as hobby or recreational equipment, family heirlooms, art or other collections) may remain in the home for a long period of time until the parties wend their way through the legal process of divorce. Equally common is the scenario where the split was particularly acrimonious, so that the partner who has moved out prefers to simply replace certain of those personal items (where possible), rather than have to make arrangements to go back and get them.
In such cases, it’s easy to see why the partner who is left stuck with an Ex’s possessions would want to get rid of them, for practical and emotional reasons. But the question is whether he or she has the legal right to do.
Once again, the answer is “no” – at least not without giving the Ex-partner reasonable notice of the intent to do so, and adequate opportunity to make arrangements to come back and get them. Otherwise – technically – the partner who did the disposing could be held legally liable for the reasonable replacements costs.
Instead, for the partner who is left to deal with an Ex’s abandoned items a far better strategy is for him or her to:
1) Give the other partner notice in writing (ideally by registered letter) advising them that the goods are available for pick-up at a certain time, or during a certain window of time.
2) Have the letter indicate that if the items are not retrieved within that specified time-period, they will be donated or disposed of.
3) Keep any subsequent correspondence to document the arrangements that are being made to have the other partner return.
4) Provide a reasonable level of access, co-operation and accommodation when the Ex-partner does come at the time arranged, to retrieve the possessions.
However, if the Ex-partner has not retrieved the items despite being given such reasonable opportunity to do so, then they can be disposed of in a reasonable manner – or better yet, donated to a charity (with the donation receipts retained; they can be used for Canada Revenue Agency purposes.)