The Consequences of Destroying Personal Items Accumulated During a Marriage

By Lois G. Schwartz | October 25, 2017


During a divorce, emotions can run high. It may be tempting to destroy certain personal items you and your spouse collected during your marriage – especially items like photographs or family videos, which may seem too painful to keep.

Destroying or damaging personal items, however, can have severe consequences.

In a recent New Jersey case, C.S. v. B.S., the husband moved out while the divorce was pending. In negotiations, the spouses had agreed that he had a right to half of the family photographs and videos the couple had made during their 25-year marriage. When he asked for his share, however, the wife announced that she had destroyed them.

In court, the wife claimed that she had destroyed the 25 years of photos and videos before the divorce and that she thought the divorce decree referred only to the return of the husband’s childhood photos. The Court rejected this testimony, but found itself in a sticky situation: How to put a value on 25 years of recorded memories?

Basing its decision on the implicit requirement of good faith and fair dealing that governs all divorce proceedings, the court decided to award the husband $5,000 in exchange for the lost photos and videos.

Although the result, in this case, dealt with family memories – a difficult item to place a value on – any case that involves one party damaging or destroying marital property will examine how much that property was worth, and will likely require the spouse who did the damage to compensate the other spouse. Often, the few moments of relief that come from destroying or throwing out personal items are simply not worth the substantial financial burden and loss of the court’s trust that one can incur as a result.

If you’re considering or facing divorce and you’re uncertain which steps you can safely take to protect yourself and your interests, don’t hesitate to talk to an experienced divorce lawyer. To learn more, contact attorney Lois Garber Schwartz today.


The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney/client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.

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