Equitable Distribution of Tchotchkes
Laura W. Morgan
One spouses piece of junk is another spouses
priceless heirloom. The recent case of Alley v. Brotherton,
No. 88,156 (Kansas Court of Appeals, November 27, 2002), where
a wife was held in contempt for failing to turn over to the
husband family memorabilia demonstrates the lengths
to which parties may go to retain personal items or hold them
hostage. The question thus arises, How should a court divide
and value what may be charitably called personal mementos?
The cases have addressed such various items as antique furniture,
guns, paintings, sculpture, figurines, coins, stamps, model
trains, baseball cards, and beer cans. Generally, the court
should award the collection to the spouse to whom the collection
has sentimental value. E.g., Starnes v. Starnes,
680 So. 2d 572 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1996) (error to award
wife husbands school books, memorabilia, and childhood
toys); In re Marriage of Harding, 189 Ill. App. 3d
663, 545 N.E.2d 459 (1989) (stamp collection); Long v.
Long, 129 Md. App. 554, 743 A.2d 281 (2000) (model train
collection); In re Marriage of Keedy, 813 P.2d 442
(Mont. 1991) (baseball card collection); Summer v. Summer,
206 A.D.2d 930, 615 N.Y.S.2d 192 (1994) (husbands personal
photographs are marital property, but they should be awarded
to him as part of his share of the marital estate); Dixon
v. Dixon, 919 P.2d 28 (Okla. Ct. App. 1996); Albrecht
v. Albrecht, 609 N.W.2d 765 (S.D. 2000) (family farm
house to husband); Van Boxtel v. Van Boxtel, No.
99-0341 (Wis. Ct. App. 2002) (collection of Precious
While division does not pose much of a problem, valuation,
on the other hand, can be problematic. It may be hard to see
that a collection of penguin figurines would have significant
value, but in Epstein v. Epstein, 289 A.D.2d 78,
734 N.Y.S.2d 144 (2001), such a collection was valued at $50,000.
See also Long v. Long, 129 Md. App. 554,
743 A.2d 281 (2000) (model train collection valued at $400,000);
Holden v. Holden, 31 Va. App. 24, 520 S.E.2d 842
(1999) (comic book collection valued at $17,000). Thus, counsel
should attempt to value items of sentimental value on eBay
or other internet auction sites.