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Dividing the art collection in a divorce

When a couple begins an art collection, they rarely anticipate that they may someday have to divide it. For many couples, however, it is an unavoidable reality. Dividing property is usually a significant challenge for spouses who are divorcing. For spouses who are also art collectors, there are several additional questions to consider. Is it better to keep the collection intact, even if one spouse must relinquish ownership? If the collection is split up, who gets to keep which piece?

Couples who are thinking about how to handle an art collection in a divorce should consider these important factors.

Valuing the collection

In a legal sense, art is not any different from other property like pots and pans. Distributing an art collection has its own unique challenges, though. Before dividing a collection, each piece must be carefully appraised. The couple must somehow select a party to appraise it. If a divorce is particularly contentious, each spouse may insist on selecting their own independent authority to appraise the pieces. Because the price of art has soared in recent years, valuing art and subsequently dividing it can be particularly complicated. Some connoisseurs even contend that the only way to accurately determine a piece’s value is to sell it.

Is there a prenup?

Prenuptial agreements can be the best way to protect assets, including artwork, in the event of a divorce. Nowadays, many couples have their attorneys incorporate provisions specifically addressing the disposition of art collections. Prenups are not always legally bulletproof, though. The party who purchases the artwork usually has legal claim over it, even if the purchase was at the behest of the other spouse.

The tenor of the divorce

The value of marital property is not determined solely by its financial value: It also depends on how much each spouse wants it. In an ideal situation, the couple would cooperate amicably to reach a mutually satisfactory arrangement. This is much easier said than done, and it may not be tenable for spouses who are no longer amicable. Sometimes it is necessary to hire a divorce attorney who has experience with art collections and property division. In some divorces, every piece of property can cause a power struggle. Art is no different.

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  • Divorce