Property Division, Sharing & The Matrimonial Home

Are Memories Truly “Priceless”? Putting Value on Sentimental Items in a Divorce

Written by Russell Alexander ria@russellalexander.com / (905) 655-6335

Are Memories Truly “Priceless”? Putting Value on Sentimental Items in a Divorce

Last month we covered the topic of how courts value luxury or custom items in a high-net-worth divorce.

But the challenge of putting price on unique items isn’t limited to divorce between the rich.  Family Courts sometimes struggle to place a dollar-value on even everyday items, a task hampered by one spouse’s inflated – but ultimately unrealistic – expectations around of a what a cherished possession might be worth.

For example, in Coolen v. Coolen, the court wrote:

[The husband] was ridiculed for placing values of $2,000.00 on family photos and $1,500.00 on a collection of pins that he had accumulated over many years. My impression of his evidence with regards to these was that he was putting a “subjective” value on items that had little market value. His motives were honest but misguided and I do not accept his value with regards to these emotional items.

Fortunately, the courts approach this exercise with a rational and detached perspective, which is especially important when the values proposed by each spouse differ greatly.  Rather than accepting these skewed or over-valued figures, the courts consider more neutral and independent assessments, such as those based on an item’s market value.  They might also involve receive evidence from more dispassionate valuation and appraisal experts.

The end result of this exercise, is a more objective assessment.   This is illustrated in Nauss v. Nauss, where one of the spouses assessed their household contents at $15,000, but the court assessed their true value for divorce purposes as being a small fraction of that. The court wrote:

b) Household Contents

When filing his Statement of Property in July of 1999, Mr. Nauss assigned a global value of $15,000 to the matrimonial household contents. The Statement Mrs. Nauss signed December 1998 assigned a global value of $7,000 to “general furnishings and appliances”. It has been my experience that parties before the Court frequently over-value their personal possessions. Sometimes it appears that an inflated price reflects a sentimental value and sometimes the values assigned appear to be replacement costs. In this case the assumptions made by the parties in respect of the value of their household items must be attenuated by appraisals which were subsequently obtained. Those appraisals place the value of household goods in the possession of Mrs. Nauss at $2,805 and those of Mr. Nauss at $1,025.

Probably disappointing for both spouses, but more realistic for Family Law purposes.

For the full text of the decisions, see:

Coolen v. Coolen, 2004 NSSC 1

Nauss v. Nauss, 2002 NSSC 32

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the founder of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers and is the firm’s senior partner. At Russell Alexander, our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues, including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. We have locations in Toronto, Markham, Whitby (Brooklin), Oshawa, Concord, Lindsay, and Peterborough.

For more information, visit our website, or you can call us at: 905-655-6335.