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Dividing property

Picking Picasso's rightful owner: Dividing artwork in a divorce

Art collectors going through a divorce fear that their most precious pieces will land in their ex-spouse's ends. The division of artwork in a divorce can become even more complicated when the artwork is excessively valuable.

This is a fact that Linda Macklowe has learned after filing for divorce from her billionaire husband Harry Macklowe. Amongst her possessions are works by world-renowned artists such as Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko and Andy Warhol. The pieces have been valued upwards of $600 million or possibly even billions.

The Macklowes' case begs this question: Who will walk away from the divorce with the art?

Here are some things that courts consider when deciding who gets the artwork in a divorce.

When was the art purchased?

The courts will want to know the date that the artwork was acquired. If the artwork was purchased before the marriage it may be considered separate property. If it was purchased during the marriage it could mean that it is fair game in a divorce.

Whose money was used to purchase the art?

In some cases one spouse may have purchased the art during the marriage. Even so - was it purchased with marital funds from a joint account? Did one spouse pay for it with their separate assets? Courts may require the divorcees to track down the source of the money to determine if it is marital property.

What's the value of the artwork?

Overtime artwork can increase in value and could influence who will take it home. In the case of Macklowe her art collection may even be worth more than the couple's house and combined assets. If a piece of art is exceptionally valuable it could quickly become the main focus of a divorce proceeding and overshadow all other asset divisions.

Protecting your Picassos

Individuals who want to protect their artwork in the event of a divorce have options. Some art collectors have been successful by including language regarding the work in a prenuptial agreement. Others have been able to hold onto their art by keeping a list of receipts that verified when the art was purchased and from which account. While it isn't always possible to protect such items in a divorce it may not be a bad idea to consider taking preventative steps like these - just in case.

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