The Equitable Division Of Invaluable Art

On Behalf of | Jan 26, 2017 | High Asset Divorce |

Any artwork collected – or created – during a couple’s marriage is subject to division should they get divorced. This is problematic. Artworks fluctuate in value greatly and often. Determining a piece’s true worth any given moment can be incredibly complex. As such, figuring out how to distribute a collection equitably is, for many, a source of anxiety.

In popular culture, for example, the fate of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s collection is a topic of much speculation. They were, according to ArtNet, putting together a “sort of private gallery,” and had gathered works by Banksy, Richard Serra, and Ed Ruscha, among others. Their holdings were worth an estimated $25 million – though estimated is the key word there. The full catalogue of their collection remains unknown; likewise, how the works will be split has yet to be seen.

Who keeps what?

Art differs from other investments. It’s personal – a reflection of one’s personal tastes and, in some sense, one’s values. This can make it particularly difficult to part with.

There is no surefire way to hold on to the pieces you most value – at least, not without giving up other assets in return. Still, for collectors entering divorce proceedings, a recent article in the Huffington Post lays out some basic guidelines for how to avoid a disastrous outcome.

It is imperative, for example, for couples to make a detailed inventory of all the works they acquired during their marriage. This provides a foundation from which to move forward. To the extent possible, they ought to list, too, how much they paid for each work. From there, spouses benefit from working with lawyers and appraisers who can, to the extent possible, accurately value their art. As the article notes, “both sides are entitled to pick their own experts…[but] you want to avoid the vagaries of separate appraisals.” Simply put, pricing an artwork is not like diagnosing a disease; a second opinion tends to make matters worse, rather than resolve them.

You can run but you can’t hide

Some have tried to hide their cherished artworks. But this is a quick way for individuals to lose what they prize most. The failure to disclose assets can lead to future lawsuits, and half – or all – of any undisclosed or unallocated holdings may end up going to the other spouse. Judges, to say it frankly, do not look kindly on such acts of deceit.

No divorce proceedings are simple. Yet couples can take steps to make them less complex. Seeking counsel when you need it can help you make sure your walls don’t go bare.