Personal Property – Now You See it, Now You Don’t

Many people have misconceptions about what the courts consider personal property during a divorce. It doesn’t help that the definition is so broad, but fortunately, Alaska law is very clear about what constitutes personal property.

What is Personal Property in Alaska?

Personal property is a general term that covers all property that is not real property.

It includes intangible property such as stocks, bonds, or business good will. It also includes tangible property such as cars, boats, clothing, jewelry and collectibles.

What Happens to Personal Property in a Divorce?

When a couple divorces, the court or the parties must inventory, value and divide all of their personal property.

If the parties can agree to split what they have acquired, the court and the parties’ lawyers don’t need to waste time addressing property division.

If the parties cannot agree on property division, the reality is that they’ll end up paying their lawyers to fight over it – and often, the lawyers’ fees are higher than the total worth of the property.

Many people find the valuation and division of personal property to be frustrating and difficult, so if you do, you’re definitely not alone.

Accounting for Personal Property

It is impossible to account for every spoon, cup or saucer acquired during a marriage. The ideal situation is to pay a professional auctioneer to inventory the contents of the family home before anything is removed.

This rarely happens. If it does, it’s typically expensive just to get the auctioneer to walk through, take inventory and assign values to items.

More commonly, the parties reconstruct a list of all the property they’ve acquired during the marriage. At the end of the process, you and your ex may still not agree. For the most part, you will probably leave your marriage with some, but not all, of your property.

What if One Spouse Sells Property?

If your spouse sells personal property before filing for divorce, there is only a slight chance that the judge will charge your spouse with its value.

If your spouse sold personal property after the divorce action was filed, then he or she has violated a court order. In such a case, there is a reasonable probability the judge may charge your spouse with the value of the property – but the chance is still lower than 50 percent.

Assigning Fair Value to Property

Some things are easier to value than others, such as:

  • Cars
  • Motorcycles
  • Motor homes
  • Boats
  • Trucks

Other personal property is given a “liquidation sale value.” This might be higher than what property would bring at a garage sale, but it depends on the type of property you have.


Art and collectibles may be assigned a value higher than garage sale or liquidation. However, you should prepare yourself; you may not be pleased with the values assigned to every item on your list. (I can almost guarantee that your spouse is going to be equally dissatisfied, though.)

Because attaching values to personal property is such a subjective process, I generally advise clients against spending time fighting over it. The judges refuse to listen to parties testify at length about their personal property, so it is best to divide what has been identified and get on with the process of divorce.

Posted in: Divorce