Lisa L. Johnson, Attorney at Law
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What happens when divorcing couples own expensive art?

Works of art can hold so much value that they can even be more valuable than the homes that contain them. That is why when Kentucky couples that own high priced paintings seek a divorce, the battles over who gets the artwork can be fierce, almost as acrimonious as some child custody fights. A successful division of art in a divorce rests upon taking key steps.

According to The Huffington Post, couples planning to divorce should document every piece of art bought before and during the marriage. If spouses purchased art before tying the knot, the artwork is considered separate property and is not subject to division. The same applies to art that spouses buy after filing for divorce or separating, though jurisdictional law may affect whether this is the case.

Additionally, if a spouse has agreed to purchase a piece of art before getting married and the spouses receives the art after the wedding is complete, the artwork is still considered separate property. This is because the spouse was not yet married while he or she made the transaction, so the spouse legally took ownership before getting married.

Art documentation is important because if a spouse tries to hide a piece of art during a divorce, this action would count as fraud under law. A divorce judge may award half or even every piece of artwork that is not disclosed to the other spouse as a result. Even if a spouse fears losing a piece of art, it is better to disclose it and contest for it later. 

Divorcing spouses should also seek out an appraiser for their artwork, particularly if the art is marital property. By determining the value of the art, the couple will have the price tag for their artwork and is ready to make a few choices. If both spouses have a claim to a piece of art, the art could be sold and its value divided among the couple. However, one spouse may look at the value and decide the art is not worth keeping, leaving it instead to the other spouse.

However, a spouse may still want to fight to keep a piece of art. The spouse may try to bargain for the artwork by negotiating away another piece of art. The spouse may also trade another asset, such as an expensive car or a vacation property in Florida. Additionally, the spouse could come up with a price to buy out the other spouse’s interest in the art.

This article is written only to educate readers on complex property division issues and is not to be taken as legal advice.

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