Who retains the Matisse when the marriage ends?

Not every couple has one or more original works of art gracing the walls of their home. But for those that do, the pieces represent as significant hurdle for equitable property division. Serious art lovers and collectors spend countless hours and funds curating their collections and retaining possession during a divorce is a major concern.

Valuing the van Gogh

Over the last half century, the value of artworks skyrocketed leaving collectors with extremely valuable pieces. In many cases, the artwork is more valuable than the home where the piece is displayed. During a divorce, proper valuation of pieces in question is a must. To resolve questionable worth, couples may need to work with a neutral party to appraise the collection or piece.

For pieces that strike a singular chord within the owner, finding a relevant dollar and cents representation of that feeling may be difficult. However, sentimental attachment is generally not enough to sway a judge’s decision. To the courts, an art collection is just something else to divide equitably.

Determining ownership

Technically speaking, art acquired during a marriage is no different from other benign marital property, such as furniture or cars. Artwork collected during a marriage generally falls under the marital property category, especially if the piece was purchased using marital funds.

However, there are exceptions. If a spouse used non-marital funds to purchase the artwork, they may have a stronger claim to ownership. If the piece was part of an inheritance, ownership belongs to the spouse who inherited it. When one spouse is an artist or an art dealer, the line between personal and business holdings blurs.

Charitable recognition

Recognition for charitable donations is another consideration for couples who donated significant funds to a museum gallery or wing. Museums often identify donors with a plaque or named hall, and divorcing couples may wish to have the name updated. If the donation stemmed from marital funds both parties deserve recognition, but if the funds came from only one spouse it may be possible to have the donation information updated to reflect the correct name.

Colorado uses the equitable distribution method to divide marital property. A spouse looking to retain possession of artwork acquired during the marriage may have to relinquish something else of value to reach a compromise.

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