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Personal belongings after a divorce
November 2, 2012 7:33 AM   Subscribe

Can my ex-husband keep my personal belongings?

My divorce from my ex was final a year ago. I realized recently that my Christmas ornaments (given to me by my great-grandmother) are all mixed in with his, and are in the house we lived in together (where he still lives). I also recently found some of his family pics mixed in with mine, that I took when I left. I wrote to him and told him I'd like to give him those pictures back, and asked if I could come over and look through the suitcases to collect my ornaments.

He said that basically any property I left behind is just that, "left behind," and that maybe if he has time he'll look in the suitcases and notify me if he finds anything, but that he doesn't think the ornaments are there. I definitely don't trust him to return the ornaments.

He's been living in the house for a year and paying all the bills, though both of our names are still on the mortgage. i plan to contact a lawyer to ask about this, but wanted to get some input before I do. Has anyone had experience with this? Can my ex refuse to let me look for personal property that I know I left behind?
posted by staggering termagant to Human Relations (10 answers total)
 
A friend in a similar situation (dishes not ornaments) Just offered to buy them from her ex at new retail cost. While a lot more than they were worth it was cheaper and faster than a lawyer.

I tend to be in favor of solutions that use money to replace dealing with toxic people. YMMV.
posted by French Fry at 7:36 AM on November 2, 2012 [13 favorites]


This is the sort of thing that should be covered in the divorce agreement, though I would ask your lawyer, as far as when you had to have all your personal property removed from the communal living space. We went through the exact same Christmas ornaments discussion with my father's ex-wife with the additional data point that my father had died in the meantime. We basically decided to be cool about it and asked my father's ex what ornaments she wanted (general descriptions) and we would get them for her. And then we never heard from her again and so we expect to go through this again this Christmas. SO, I feel for you, at the same time, I see the other side reasonably well.

My personal feeling (and IANAL and you should talk to yours) is that your ex is within his rights to not let you look through stuff to find your things that you left there, but that making a good faith effort to return them to you is the path of least hassle/lawyers.
posted by jessamyn at 7:38 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your ex is in a particular class of "stranger," in a way--he's just like anyone else in the world, and you have no more right to enter his house to take stuff away with you than you would have to come to my house and take stuff away. Absent fraud, the entire universe of your property settlement was likely described in your final decree--usually there's a catch all provision that states the parties keep the "personalty" in their possession. What he had in his possession would now be his (regardless of where it came from)--and the same goes for the stuff you had that might have been his at one point. At least that's the way my divorce decree was written.

But them's the breaks, if your ex is not willing to accomodate you. I know I would not want my ex coming to my place to look for anything she left behind. You may have luck with French Fry's suggestion of paying for them.

By all means check with your lawyer, and this is not legal advice (and I am not your lawyer).
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:56 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Alternatively, if you can stand to be in the same place at the same time, you can offer to do a meetup on neutral ground (possibly somewhere you can buy him a coffee / small meal for the trouble) where he brings the suitcases and you bring the pictures. All he has to do is wander off, drinking the coffee. You go through the suitcases, text him when done. He picks up the suitcases that you repack minus the ornaments and plus the pictures, you go separate ways.
posted by skittlekicks at 8:04 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


How did you not cover the mortgage in your settlement? I'd be WAY more worried about that than anything else.

As for the ornaments, is he just being difficult for the sake of being difficult? If he just resents that you want him to go and do, can you ask him politely if it would be possible, when he takes the ornaments out to decorate for the holidays, if you could come by and get your grandmother's ornaments at the same time?

If you have his pictures, in a gesture of good will, send them to him directly.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:13 AM on November 2, 2012 [13 favorites]


Agree with Ruthless Bunny. Shouldn't the mortgage be taken care of, and don't you have a lawyer who handled your divorce?
posted by radioamy at 8:34 AM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, I've had experience with this. My ex-wife was still trying to contact me five years after our divorce to ask me about stuff, as if I was running a document storage company strictly for her benefit.

Your divorce has been final for a year so you have probably been apart for 18-24 months. To be honest, that's a pretty long time. He has legitimate reason to be suspicious of your request.

Indicating that he'll look "if he has time" is a pretty fair response given the circumstances.
posted by 99percentfake at 8:39 AM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


My (UK) divorce agreement settled things between us with regard to the house and money, and then said that the contents of the house remained the property of the person whose possession they were in at the time the agreement came into force, which effectively meant that legally, anything my ex hadn't moved out of the house was mine.

But you need to ask your lawyer, or read your own agreement. I suspect you'll catch more flies with honey than lawyers, though.
posted by pw201 at 9:35 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Regarding the mortgage question, the only way to get off of a mortgage is to refinance. If your mortgage is under water, you can't refinance without paying the back the underwater amount in cash. What this means is, people getting divorced with underwater mortgages are stuck on their spouse's mortgage until it's possible to refinance.
posted by cnc at 10:02 AM on November 2, 2012


CNC's got it. We did settle the big stuff withh a lawyer and I got all my duds out right after I left, except for the ornaments. I just forgot about them because I had a couple of other things on my mind at that time.

I've never asked him for anything like this before, and the only reason I thought of it was because I found his family photos among mine and figured he'd want them, and that triggered me thinking about the ornaments. I told him if he brought the suitcases to a neutral location, I'd look through them and give him his pics, but he says he's too busy to do this.

I am definitely not willing to go to war over this. He's doing this simply because he can. If I wait on him to have time to look through the suitcases, I doubt I'll ever see those ornaments, but oh well. I think I'll take Ruthless Bunny's advice and mail him his family photos anyway. Almost any interaction I have with him, I try to imagine our daughter reading the email thread long after we're dead and going "Oh. So that's why she left him." It's super easy to get petty and vindictive over stuff like is, but this ain't the hill I'm going to die on.
posted by staggering termagant at 11:13 AM on November 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


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