What Kinds of Possessions Do Former Couples Squabble About?
I had to chuckle when I came across an older photo from a U.S. divorce hearing in 1999. It shows the former couple on the floor of the courtroom dividing up their cherished Beanie Baby collection:
Although evidently this collection meant a lot to this pair (and might be one of the things that actually drew them to each other), it made me wonder about some of the other things that end up becoming contentious items – whether immediately or even long after the marital split.
In a case called Kallies v. Kallies, the couple had separated a full seven years earlier, at which time the wife left the home without taking her books, records, clothing, her wedding dress, a sewing machine, her aunt’s knitting needle collection, and a painting by her sister. She had since requested numerous times that these items be returned, but the husband never complied. In its divorce order, the court expressly directed the husband to pack these specific items up and deliver them to the wife’s new address and gave him a strict deadline to do so.
In Young v. Young, the couple split after 25 years of marriage, but then it took them another 19 years to get around to asking the court for a divorce order. During that period the wife had continued to live in the former matrimonial home, which still contained an on-display heirloom gramophone given to them during the marriage by the husband’s family. The court found that this gramophone was not a “matrimonial asset” subject to the division in the usual manner; rather it was to be returned outright to the husband in light of its family-based origins. Besides, the court added, the wife had had use and enjoyment of it for the 19 years since their separation, so it was proper that she hand it over even at this late stage.
Sometimes a single item can hold up the entire divorce process. In a case called Giannis v. Fotis, the couple’s issue was over the ownership of a particular piece of jewelry – and it kept them stymied from resolving their larger divorce-related matters. The court described the couple’s dispute this way:
Gold Neck Chain
The parties are equally adamant in their claims to the gold chain. In fact, the gold chain seems to have prevented the parties from settling all outstanding issues.
The chain was purchased by the husband before the marriage. He gave it to the wife shortly before marriage and she wore it continuously thereafter. This is borne out by the several photographs of the wife taken over the years of marriage, of which show her wearing the chain. The evidence of the husband does not indicate that any conditional or limiting words were used by him at the time of the gift. Nor is it an heirloom of the husband’s family. The wife says that it was an outright gift.
On the facts, the court ultimately awarded the gold chain to the wife, having found that it was an “item of personal jewelry” rather than a matrimonial asset that was subject to being divided. The court went on to resolve other outstanding items and then was able to finally declare the couple to be formally divorced.
(P.S. The custody of pets is often a hotly-contested issue in some divorces. Look forward to more on that in a future blog.)
For the full text of the decisions, see:
Young v. Young, 1990 CanLII 688 (BC SC)
Kallies v. Kallies, 2010 SKQB 141 (CanLII)
Giannias v. Fotis, 1996 CanLII 5470 (NS SC)