Breaking Up and Packing Up: Making a Move After a Divorce

by Deb Hipp on


When Helen Shultz and Tony Kamalduski married, neither expected to split their belongings and move hundreds of miles away when they divorced 18 years later.

But two years ago, when the marriage dissolved, Helen and their teenage daughter, Emely, relocated 1,300 miles from Auburn, WA, to Lakewood, CO. Tony moved to nearby Denver, CO, to be close to Emely. Though the marriage was over, Shultz and Kamalduski were determined to make the move from Washington to Colorado a smooth one.

“We wanted there to not be a lot of conflict, so basically there wasn’t,” Shultz said.

Sifting Through Stuff

Shultz pared the load by donating books, clothes and Emely’s old toys to thrift stores. Also, the family held a garage sale, sold furniture and set a few things on the curb. “If it’s free, something that someone wouldn’t pay for suddenly becomes rife with potential,” she said.

The two negotiated sentimental items. Kamalduski wanted to keep theChristmas ornaments, fearing that Shultz might give them away instead of passing them along to Emely. “We worked it out,” Shultz said.

Coping With Logistics

Shultz did research and found that loading up everything themselves was cheaper than using a moving company. She paid around $2,500 to rent and ship a storage container from Washington to Colorado.

“We packed up our house before we ever put it on the market,” said Shultz, who recommends hiring someone to clean the home. She also suggests hiring laborers to pack your stuff if you can afford it.

The storage container company delivered the bin later than expected, shipping it two weeks after Shultz and her daughter moved. Kamalduski drove to Denver first and stayed at a local campground while waiting for his possessions and looking for an apartment. Shultz and her daughter moved into Shultz’s sister’s house, acting as caretakers in exchange for rent while the sister was away.

“We were pretty good sports,” Helen said of the move and household split.

Not all moves go as smoothly, though. Here are five tips for making a move during this major life transition.

1. Prepare an Inventory Agreement.

Create an “inventory agreement” that lists household items you will take, divorce mediator Nancy Fagan said. Have your spouse review and sign it. “If there is any item under question, now is the time to discuss it,” Fagan said.

2. Shop for Movers.

Call several moving companies and let them compete, said Elita Fielder, who moved from Los Angeles, CA, to Houston, TX, in 2011 during a divorce. Make sure they’re reputable, though. “I had a friend who used a cheap company that stole half her furniture,” she said.

Check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Angie’s List and Yelp for complaints and reviews. Look for movers listed with the American Moving & Storage Association, which screens members annually for BBB ratings, proper insurance and federal registration.

3. Spare Marital Keepsakes for Now.

While it may be tempting to toss wedding photos or the napkin from your first date, box up marital mementos and sort them after the post-divorce emotions settle. “There will come a day when you want to look back and appreciate that part of your life or share it with your children,” Fagan said.

4. Consider Custody Restrictions.

A person moving with children should check the most recent court order carefully, said Brian McNamara, a divorce lawyer in Houston.

“Changing the child’s residence outside the area defined in the court order can result in an order that the children be returned, contempt of court by the parent who moved them, and can even be a basis to change primary custody,” he said.

5. Choose a Peaceful Place.

Kara Holmes, a therapist who divorced and moved from San Diego, CA, to Newport Beach, CA, last year, rushed into the first townhouse rental she found. She wanted to live somewhere that was dog-friendly and by the water. Instead, she was surrounded by rowdies who partied every weekend.

“It reminded me of my ex-husband. I had just escaped that lack of peace in my life, and now I was right back in it,” said Holmes, who moved two weeks later to a quiet community. “Choose a place that will foster healing.”