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Ex-etiquette: What's mine is his?

Jann Blackstone, Tribune News Service on

Published in Family Living

Q. After three years together, my ex and I broke up four months ago. I was so mad that I didn’t take anything except my car, which was mine before I moved in. He still lives in the house, has my sofa and has all my pots and pans and I’m the one who cooks! He also still has hundreds of dollars in kitchen utensils and spices. The dust has settled, and I want my stuff, but I’m afraid to ask. I left very unexpectedly, and he was really angry. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. We rarely put our best foot forward when breaking up, and if you were as angry as it sounds, I’m not surprised you didn’t think about “your stuff” as you moved out. Being that you were not married, I take it there was no formal agreement as to what was yours and what was his, and there lies the problem.

I’m not an attorney, but I do remember a case, Marvin vs Marvin, 1979, that set precedent establishing the right of partners in nonmarried relationships to sue for a division of property. However, it will be expensive to take that route, and it could be dependent on how long you were together with proof of how much you comingled funds and the award in that particular case was rescinded later. That means, there are no guarantees, and since we aren’t talking about loss of wages and thousands of dollars’ worth of stuff to be returned, it appears your best bet is to reach out kindly and simply ask for your things.

How do you do that? Although you say you are afraid to talk to your ex, since six months has passed with no indication your things will be returned, your only alternative if you want the things back is to open a dialogue.

A phone call is a good start, but if you are completely estranged, you may be blocked. Email is a logical next choice, but again, there is no guarantee he will respond. Sending a certified letter may be the only way to guarantee he acknowledges your request.


You didn’t tell me what angered you to the point that you left as you did, but if an apology seems out of place, consider starting the communication acknowledging that your temper got the best of you and as a result you left behind things that really mattered to you. Give him a list of things you would like returned with a date and time for pick up and hope that enough time has passed that he will entertain returning your things.

Finally, I trust your fear of interaction is based on being embarrassed about the way you left or just the fear that someone may get confrontational. Nevertheless, if there was intimate partner violence of any kind in your past with this former partner, forget about a sofa and pots and pans and move on. That may be the best advice in the long run, anyway.

For all in a similar situation, living together is serious business. Make sure you are protected and have some sort of dissolution agreement designating what belongs to each of you should things not work out. That’s good ex-etiquette.


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