Who would believe an instant camera to lead to so much conflict? Noeleen Walder of the New York Law Journal recently authored an article entitled “Divorcing Couple Hits Snag Over Splitting 7,000 Family Photos.” Walder writes:
When M.R. and E.R. decided to call it quits after more than 20 years of marriage, they had no trouble agreeing on how to split the marital home or how to handle custody of their children. But when it came to figuring out how to divide more than 7,000 photographs, the picture got blurrier.
…after spending more than $2,100 to scan the photos onto a disc, the quality of the reproductions became a bone of contention. The judge attempted to broker an agreement, but the parties maintained what he called their “intractable and opposite positions.”
At a hearing last week, during which both parties appeared pro se, the husband testified “in great detail about his meticulous cataloging of photographs,” which he equated with the hobby of collecting rare books.
He characterized his wife’s involvement in the process as “limited” and “antagonistic,” and said he believed she was fighting over the albums for vindictive, rather than sentimental, reasons.
The wife testified that she had some involvement in compiling the photos and said that several of those that were copied contained imperfections.
The judge ultimately awarded the husband 75% of the original photos and said:
The method of selection shall be in a manner agreed to by the parties or the selection process shall be as follows: starting with the first album, the Wife shall, counting from the first page thereof, be entitled to receive every fourth original photograph in that album.
Whether the division of a set of porcelain cougars, Nascar paraphernalia or beer mugs from Norway, we’ve been involved in a good number of disputes similar to the one reported by Walder. And they drive judges nuts. It’s an interesting study in human nature. To witness the sentimental value clients attach to things that, to the general public, are basically worthless. I get it, through. I’ve got a treasured lamp from my mom’s side of the family and a cool wooden candy dish from my dad’s parents. Photos are no different.
I often tell clients that their spouse knows better than anyone how to push their buttons. Unfortunately, a lot of button-pushing goes on during litigation. If you find yourself in the early stages of divorce, you may still have the ability to prevent problems later. My suggestion? Box your treasures up and get it out of the house…right now. Take them to your lawyer’s office, or leave it with a trusted friend or family member. You can’t sell them, but you can “store” things until the divorce is final. I’m willing to bet your spouse will forget about your Gumby clock altogether.
As to family photos and videos? This couple seemed to have it right at the onset. But, courts typically order the parties to split the cost of reproducing everything and dividing the originals equally. Looks like husband scored a victory.