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Why is “Stuff” So Important in Your Divorce? Think About It!

By Carolyn Woodruff, North Carolina Family Law Specialist, CPA, and CVA

I am constantly amazed at how people going through a divorce “fight” over “stuff” like a tea cup, a train set, a doll, or a stuffed animal. Generally, when I am using the word “stuff,” I mean personal property like tables and chairs, jewelry, or sentimental items from childhood.  The items have very little monetary value usually (some jewelry and collectibles excepted).  Sometimes the items have great sentimental value.  So, why the fight?

The columnists “Soapbox” in the Sunday magazine Wall Street Journal inspired me to contemplate personal property and its role in our lives.  Jay Leno was one of the columnists, and he talked about his one hundred and fifty cars and one hundred and seventeen motorcycles, all in working condition.  He likes the story behind his cars.  Pat Cleveland considers expensive items “meaningful” and indicia of success, perhaps why so many like Louis Vuitton purses.  Someone commented on behalf of Barbie, the Mattel doll, who states her accessories of a Corvette or outfits create imagination.

In a divorce, anger and striking out at the other side frequently takes the form of snatching and holding hostage a special, sentimental item.  So as a boy, perhaps you collected fishing lures.  The lures bring back memories of special travel and times, but have no monetary value.  There is the pink trout lure that grandma bought you when she took you to the Colorado mountains to fly fish for trout.  Priceless!  And in your divorce, your ex-wife wants to make it an earring.  Oh boy!

The legal remedy is found in NCGS 50-20 that allows a party to an equitable distribution action to ask the court for the return of separate property being held hostage and allows attorney fees if your ex has refused to give you items of personalty that are property you had before the marriage.  So, you can use this statute if you must.  Practically, you have another solution; particularly if you know a separation is about to occur.

I am in my second marriage with the most wonderful man.  He has a stuffed cat that his mother gave him when he was born. The cat has lost lots of hair but is the source of much inspiration and sentimental memories.  In his divorce from his former wife, the cat was the first item he rescued.  We named the cat Captain Green Eyes and together wrote a children’s book about the Captain called Captain Green Eyes and the Seven Nights of Santa. See

In divorces, sentimental items are frequently held hostage by the other spouse.  So in planning for an upcoming case, your best practical solution is to secure that special, personal, sentimental property you had before the marriage.  Protect the fishing lures and stuffed animals that have priceless sentimental value. And, if you are the one holding an item hostage, do a little soul-searching on your anger. Otherwise, you may find yourself paying your ex’s attorney fees, if legal action has to happen.