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How artwork is treated during a divorce

It is not unusual for discussions over property division to become contentious when couples in North Carolina and around the country file for divorce, and these negotiations can become especially heated when the assets involved include artwork on which it can be difficult to place an accurate value. Art collections are generally acquired with great care over long periods, and spouses are often extremely reluctant to break them up or stand idly by as they are auctioned off.

The law is less sentimental and treats works of art no differently than more mundane assets, like furniture or electronic equipment. Any paintings or sculptures acquired during a marriage are considered marital property and must be divided during a divorce. If one spouse wishes to retain assets such as a favorite painting or an entire art collection, he or she will usually be asked to provide other assets or financial consideration in exchange. When these emotional bonds are strong, it can be difficult for spouses to negotiate favorable property division agreements.

Placing an accurate value on works of art can be a challenging and contentious process. The only true way to gauge the worth of a painting could be to sell it, but serious collectors may find this solution unacceptable. Spouses may improve their chances of retaining cherished works by purchasing them with nonmarital funds, but invoices have sometimes been considered unreliable documents in high-asset divorce cases.

Experienced family law attorneys may recommend prenuptial agreements to clients that appreciate art and wish to retain ownership of their collections. However, lawyers could also point out that these agreements may not withstand judicial scrutiny if they are not essentially fair. The art world can be faddish, and the values of paintings may soar when a particular style or genre becomes fashionable. Attorneys could suggest including provisions in prenuptial agreements that adequately compensate spouses when artwork has appreciated significantly.