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Dividing the Pots & Pans

When you’re getting a divorce, how do you figure out who gets the pots and pans? Who gets the china, the knick-knacks, the photo albums, the lamps, the dishes, the electronics, and the furnishings? How do you divide the myriad household items collected over years of marriage?

Honorable Judge Robert Schnider (Retired) began his career as a family law attorney in 1971. He was among the first group of lawyers to become a Certified Family Law Specialist when the California State Bar created the designation. Judge Schnider is unique in the family law court system because his entire career has been focused on family law matters. Where most judges assigned to the family law department have backgrounds in criminal law or something else unrelated to family matters, Judge Schnider knows family law inside and out.

When asked how he dealt with dividing the pots and pans in his courtroom he said he never objected to dividing the furniture.  He developed a method he said often led parties to settling their property issues.  He required that parties create one list that set forth every item they wanted him to rule on.  The list would contain the numbered items, any party’s contention the item did not in fact exist, each party’s contention as to who had the item, each party’s contention as to separate property or community property, and each party’s contention as to fair market value.  If they wanted to include purchase price they could, but purchase price wasn’t as important as the current value.

The parties could start off with two separate lists if they wanted, but what they presented to the court had to be one combined list.

Of course, this exercise involves a lot of work that can’t be foisted off onto the attorney. Judge Schnider admitted that more often than not, parties would get mad in the middle of this exercise and exclaim that it was a waste of time or that the judge was being a jerk, but then they would become reasonable and settle the case.

On the rare occasion they did not, Judge Schnider said he could usually try the case in a few hours and often rule from the bench, keeping the attorney fees down.  There was the occasional case where he spent several days with testimony about the physical condition of each item, the provenance of many items, the market research regarding values, et cetera, but those were the exceptions.

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