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High Value Marital Estates: Dividing Artwork

My practice centers on high conflict divorces and complex child custody cases. In a number of my divorce and custody cases, there was also a high value marital estate that had to be valued and allocated, including marriages with business interests, stock options, and valuable investments and works of art. With my JD/MBA training and years of experience in financial issues, I am most comfortable with all property valuation and division issues in divorce cases. The WSJ highlights today the difficulties with allocating art in various jurisdictions ( Illinois law does not apply herein ).

Daniel Grant of the WSJ: Sept. 21, 2014

Who gets that painting?

Of all the fights that can erupt during divorce proceedings or when a family member leaves behind a large estate, some of the biggest take place over the artwork.

Make an Inventory. For divorcing couples, the first step is to develop a detailed list of all the art bought before the marriage; bought during the marriage; art sold and at what price; and art that hasn’t been sold, says Raoul Felder, a divorce attorney in New York City.

Art bought or obtained before the marriage is usually not considered marital property.

Hiding artworks or failure to disclose relevant documents could lead to lawsuits. If fraud is determined, “half or more of any undisclosed and unallocated assets may be awarded to the other spouse,” warns Valerie L. Patten, a family and art law practitioner in Palo Alto, Calif.

Hire an Appraiser. “The love of art grows exponentially after the appraiser’s report comes in,” especially if items have grown in value, says Dallas-based lawyer Ike Vanden Eykel.

A couple may agree on one appraiser, or each may hire their own. Mr. Felder warns that appraisals can be far apart. Parties can agree to split the difference between two conflicting appraisals or take the differences into account when negotiating which partner gets which piece.

Artworks then may be divided equally by value, or other assets can be made part of the bargaining-the house, the vacation home, the car, even primary custody of the children.

‘Serious art collectors might roll over in their graves-or never marry-if they knew what feuds their purchases were destined to inspire’

And as Mr. Vanden Eykel says, “You don’t want to leave things up to a judge to decide, because the court may only order that everything be sold.”