During the divorce process, the marital assets of a couple are out in the open and evaluated. In deciding who gets what with the assets and finances, both individuals are exposing what they have and valuing it, based on the understanding that all that is listed and exposed is all that there is.
Many look to hide assets through various degrees of subterfuge. Some simply lose track of various things that they accumulate during the course of a lifetime. Either way, looking for the assets becomes a task unto itself.
For many, this task starts at the storage unit.
Assets in storage
For individuals who do not have the space in their home for all of their things, storage spaces provide a great way of accessing your items without having all of the clutter inside your home. For individuals seeking a divorce, storage units could contain many of the assets being sought after.
According to The Atlantic, storage industry professionals refer to the changes and crises that fuel their business as the four Ds: dislocation, downsizing, divorce, and death. These moments in one’s life require finances to deal with the changes occurring in one’s life, and that starts with one’s accrued assets.
Whether the asset is hidden there or was simply forgotten, the risk of it looking like it was hidden is ever-present. Many companies and websites who specialize in storage units have general rules and regulations to the use and access between soon-to-be ex-spouses in situations of divorce.
According to the self-storage news website, Inside Self-Storage (ISS), a storage operator generally does not care who has a right to the property in a particular unit. If the rent is paid and the individual looking to access the unit has the proper access code and key, the manager will not care about the right of access.
However, the situation can become tense when the spouse who is the non-tenant attempts to access the storage unit and the tenant spouse disputes their right to access. According to ISS, the manager defers judgment to the courts, which already are handling the dissolution of the marriage and the separation of the assets.
This is where the property and access of the storage unit come into play. The manager follows the court orders and instructions as to turning over property in the storage unit from one soon-to-be ex-spouse to another.
Inventory and value
When sorting through assets, part of the divorce process is communication, and whether that is directly or through lawyers, it can be helpful to be on the same page on issues, especially when it comes to the assets and access to a storage unit.
Many look to mischaracterize the items and assets in storage units during a divorce as “junk”. According to the self-storage brand, LifeStorage, some in the middle of the divorce experience may look to grab a trash bag and toss out as much as possible, especially if the items are a reminder of the marriage.
LifeStorage also suggests that creating an inventory may be beneficial. Creating documentation, both on paper and digitally, can be a necessary step in accounting for items and assigning a value to them. LifeStorage suggests doing this after the divorce. However, it is too important to one’s case and one’s potential financial future to wait until the end of the divorce process to postpone taking inventory of these items, valuing them, and fighting for them.
Like owning a safe deposit box, owning a storage unit can be seen as a red flag during the divorce process. Many, including the opposite party and any judge, may ask what is in the unit, and the opposite party may attempt to spin it, as assets being hidden.
Depending on your state’s status as a community property or equitable distribution state, the amount in the storage that you, as a divorcing spouse, may end up with in the divorce settlement may vary. It also is important to get a professional in this situation, capable of assigning a proper value to some of the larger assets that may be found in the storage unit. This can prevent the opposite party from manipulating the assigned value.
In keeping so many of your belongings, storage units give you the opportunity to declutter your home from the dysfunction that would occur if all of these items were to take up space in your home. Similarly, the ending of a marriage gives you the opportunity to move forward from the dysfunction of an unhappy marriage, and sorting through the assets in a storage unit is part of that process in figuring out what to do with what’s left.
Dan Pearce is an Online Editor for Lexicon, focusing on subjects related to the legal services of customers, Cordell & Cordell and Cordell Planning Partners. He has written countless pieces on MensDivorce.com, detailing the plight of men and fathers going through the divorce experience, as well as the issues seniors and their families experience throughout the estate planning journey on ElderCareLaw.com. Mr. Pearce has managed websites and helped create content, such as the Men’s Divorce Newsletter and the YouTube series, “Men’s Divorce Countdown.” He also has been a contributor on both the Men’s Divorce Podcast and ElderTalk with TuckerAllen.
Mr. Pearce assisted in fostering a Cordell Planning Partners practice area specific for Veterans, as they deal with the intricacies of their benefits while planning for the future. He also helped create the Cordell Planning Partners Resource Guide and the Cordell Planning Partners Guide to Alternative Residence Options, specific for seniors with questions regarding their needs and living arrangements.