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Property Issues: Conversion & Trover

What is conversion and what are actions in Trover?

Conversion may be generally defined as illegitimately depriving an owner of personal property without his or her consent. In Georgia, trover is the legal action that may be initiated by a property owner to recover converted property. In an action in trover, or a lawsuit to recover personal property, the plaintiff may choose to either: exclusively demand the return of the property, exclusively demand monetary compensation for the converted property, or request that the judge or jury presiding over the case render a verdict either awarding the return of the property or monetary compensation for the value of the property. O.C.G.A. § 44-12-151. If the plaintiff elects to recover monetary damages compensating him or her for the loss of the converted property, “plaintiff may recover a sum in the amount of the highest value which he is able to prove existed between the time of the conversion and the trial.” O.C.G.A. § 44-12-152.

How are conversion and trover relevant to Georgia divorce?

While it may be initially hard to conceive how the legal concepts discussed above are relevant to divorce matters, actions in trover may be a particularly useful tool for former spouses to effectuate the terms of their divorce settlement agreements or divorce decrees. Post-divorce, one potential source of contention between former spouses is the actual division of personal property. Although the parties’ settlement agreement may delineate how personal property should be divided in theory, the practical division of said property may lead to conflict between the parties, especially if one spouse is in possession of the majority of the couple’s property and must deliver certain articles of property to the other former spouse according to the terms of the couple’s divorce. In the event one former spouse fails to turn over property to the other former spouse in the divorce, the former spouse entitled to the property may file an action in trover to recover that property. See generally Dunlap v. Pope, 177 Ga. App. 539 (1986) (former husband filed suit in trover against former wife to recover personal property awarded him in the divorce, or in the alternate to recover monetary value of said property).

Generally, contempt actions are the preferable method to enforce the terms of divorce decrees post-divorce. However, in matters involving one party’s refusal to turn over personal property according to the terms of a divorce, actions in trover may be preferable to contempt actions, because actions in trover give the party initiating the action the option to either request the return of the property or to demand monetary compensation for the value of the property. The availability of this option may be particularly important in matters where the personal property subject to the suit has been irreparably damaged by the other party, sold, or otherwise disposed.

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