Splitting Your Children’s Possessions in a Divorce – Part 1 of 2


Minnetonka Family Law Attorneys

When two people go through a divorce, splitting assets is often the single most difficult sequence of decisions. Even for divorcing couples who can come to agreements on deeply personal issues of separation still struggle to split their shared physical assets. Who gets the car, whether the house needs to be sold and, often the most emotional, what to do about mutually personal items. But even more complicated is what to do about your children’s possessions.

When both parents are married and watching over the children, there is no question about who officially owns the physical items like toys, clothes, and child furniture. Both parents own the children’s possessions just as they are responsible for the children. But what happens when the parents split their assets, households, and custody? Who do the toys, the child beds, and the backyard play equipment belong to then?

About Finances or What’s Best for the Child?

Before you can move forward and make the best decision for all parties involved, you need to determine one key factor: Are you splitting the assets for financial or parenting reasons? This isn’t as morally loaded a question as it may seem. If your children have already grown out of a fairly expensive toy, like a Ride-On Car, for example, it could be sold to help balance the financial difference without hurting anyone’s feelings. Boxes of toddler toys in the attic, and even a jungle-gym that is no longer big enough for your children are all things that can be safely split for financial reasons.

However, we also occasionally see parents fighting over things like who gets their child’s bed versus who gets the dresser. When deciding what happens to items your child is currently using in their day-to-day life, this decision should not be a financial one. Instead, consider your child’s furniture, clothes, and toys to be part of the environment that both parents need to work together to maintain. Make certain that when splitting assets that are currently in use by your children, that they are split with parenting in mind, not finances.

The Child’s Personal Items

The most important thing to think about here is how you want your child to view their own personal items. Many families have the attitude that while Mom and Dad get final say, children are the official owners of their clothes, toys, and furniture. They are taught to take personal responsibility for keeping their toys tidy, their clothes clean, and not to break their furniture. When it comes time to sell or hand down old things, you check with your children and sort give-aways from keepsakes together.

And when they move out as young adults, there’s no question about paying the parents back for the keepsakes and ancient stuffed animals that go along with them. So treating your child’s items like they are so many dishes to be split up between households or sold for cash is damaging to their sense of territory, security, and independence. Your child’s current personal items should be theirs to decide what to do with because that is what will help them get through the divorce with greater personal stability.

For this reason, it’s best to consider a child’s items a packaged part of custody rather than financial assets. Since neither parent will (or should) be wearing the child’s clothes or selling their toys for cash, this should not be considered a financial issue.

One Primary Guardian

It is not uncommon in divorces for one parent to take primary custody of the children while the other maintains their legal custody (right to make legal, medical, and parenting decisions) and parental visitation rights. This means the child will live in one household and visit another for several days out of each month. When there is one primary home for a child, all of the child’s personal possessions should start in the primary home. Ideally, their room will change as little as possible, giving the child a greater sense of stability during and after the divorce.

[Continued in Part 2]