Who Gets What in a Divorce: This Is What You Need to Know


About Divorce

Every 13 seconds there’s a divorce in America. This equates to over 46,000 divorces per week and over 2.4 million divorces per year.

If you’re one of the millions of Americans going through a divorce, then you probably have a lot on your mind. While there’s a lot to figure out in a divorce, one of the biggest things you need to figure out is how to divide up your property.

Who gets what in a divorce?

Check out this guide to learn everything you need to know about splitting up your property.

1. Your Home

Oftentimes, this is the biggest question divorced couples face: how are we going to split up our home?

If neither you or your spouse have a strong attachment to your home, the easiest thing to do is to sell the property and divide the proceeds. However, this assumes that you have equity in your home. If you don’t, you may need to sell your home at a loss and then determine who will be responsible for paying the remaining mortgage.

If you’re in a situation where one person wants to keep the home, then that person can buy out the other spouse’s half. To do this, however, you’ll need to get a clear assessment of what your home is actually worth. It’s important to keep in mind that the amount you bought the home for doesn’t necessarily reflect the current value.

You can check out this guide to learn more about how to divide your home during a divorce.

2. Your Car

Another valuable piece of property that you need to figure out how to split up during a divorce is your vehicle. Typically, the best solution is to split the value of the vehicle down the middle.

For example, let’s say the book value of your vehicle is $20,000. You can sell the car and divide the proceeds, or you can have one person keep the car and then pay their spouse for their share. So, in this case, the other spouse would get $10,000 for the vehicle.

3. Furniture and Household Items

Depending on how long you’ve been married to your spouse, you may have acquired a fair amount of furniture and household items.

When it comes to dividing all of these items, the best thing to do is to usually take inventory of all these items, determine the value of every item, and then divide it fairly so that you each come out with fairly equal shares.

Hopefully, your divorce is amicable and you’ll each be able to end up the items that you really want.

4. Collectibles and Artwork

Divvying up collectibles and artwork can be a bit trickier, as these items typically hold some sentimental value that can be hard to put a dollar sign onto.

If you can’t agree on a way to split up these items evenly, then one option is to sell everything and divide the proceeds. If you don’t want to do this, you can hire an appraiser to figure out the value of all of your items. Then, you can divide the items based on value and your personal preferences.

For example, if you and your spouse both have two favorite pieces of artwork that are worth roughly the same amount, you can agree to call it even.

5. Your 401(K)

Divvying up a 401(k) can be quite tricky, so you must go about it correctly.

The best way to divide your 401(k) is to start by getting a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). This is a legal document that explains how an employer-sponsored retirement plan will be split in the event of a divorce. A major benefit of this document is that it helps you avoid taxes and penalties that you might otherwise incur should you remove money from your 401(k) early.

If you have a 401(k) in your name that your spouse is partly entitled to, your spouse might choose to leave their share in your account and withdraw later. Or, they might choose to roll the money over into their account. Another option is to request a cash payout.

Either way, this document will outline how your spouse should collect the money they’re entitled to. If your spouse opts for a lump sum payout, then you’ll typically need to get approval from your plan administrator.

6. Your IRA

In addition to dividing up your 401(k), you also need to divide up your IRA.

Unlike 401(k)s, how you divide your IRA is not determined by a document like the Qualified Domestic Relations Order. Rather, your IRA is split up according to the divorce agreement which you’re currently forming.

If you need to transfer IRA funds to your spouse, you can either set up a new IRA for them or transfer money into their existing account. To avoid taxes and penalties, you must send the funds as a transfer and not a distribution.

7. Your Brokerage Account

If you and your spouse hold a traditional brokerage account, then you’ll also need to be prepared to split that up.

To do this, start by making a list of your individual holdings. See what each of these is worth today, as well as how much you paid for them. Once you have this figured out, you have two options to choose from: you can liquidate your portfolio and divvy up the money or, you can split the holdings based on their values.

Tips to Keep in Mind

Now that you know how to split up all of your items, let’s go over some general tips you should keep in mind when divvying things up:

Disputed Items

It’s natural to have disagreements about some of the items that you’re divvying up. When this happens, try to work things out with your spouse before going to your attorney.

The best thing to do in this situation is to figure out the nature of the dispute. If it’s the monetary value that’s making one person not want to give up an item, this can usually be resolved by adjusting other assets to even things out.

It’s always important to keep in mind that most items you own depreciate over time. To get an idea of what an older item is worth, you can check out resale sites like eBay or Craigslist.

If the dispute is due to the sentimental value of the item, you should first see if there’s a duplicate of that item available. If there is, you and your spouse could split the cost of it. Or, you could also find a way to share the item on a rotating basis.

Another approach to this situation is to make a full list of disputed items. Then, you and your ex can take turns choosing an item from the list they wish to keep until everything is divided up evenly.

If you do end up in court over a disputed item, the judge will likely order you to sell the item and then split the net proceeds. So, if you don’t want to see an item being sold to a stranger, it’s important to find a way to work it out.

Unwanted Items

Of course, there are also going to be items that neither you or your spouse want to keep.

It’s important to keep in mind that unwanted items still require work, as someone will either need to trash, sell, or donate these items. If the item has a decent amount of value to it and calls for selling, you’ll need to put time into posting the item online, responding to inquiries, meeting potential buyers, and making the transaction.

For this reason, it’s important that whoever takes on this work is compensated fairly. So, talk to your spouse about how you want to handle this. For example, you could split it so the seller gets 60 percent of the proceeds and the non-seller gets 40 percent.

Also, keep in mind that large items that need to be trashed or donated (such as mattresses or furniture) sometimes come with a removal fee. So, make sure you have a conversation with your spouse about how you’re going to split up these fees.


Last but not least, you must establish a deadline for splitting up your belongings.

This deadline should be in writing and should be a part of your legal agreement. This way, the divorce won’t get dragged out any longer than it needs to be.

Who Gets What in a Divorce? Wrapping Up

As you can see, figuring out who gets what in a divorce can be a long process. However, following these tips will help prevent any unnecessary arguments and lengthy divorce proceedings.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check back in with our blog for more tips.

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