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The value and ownership of art in a divorce

Some couples in Arizona that get a divorce may have to divide valuable property, such as an art collection. This can be a complex process because it can be difficult to accurately assess the value of a work of art. It may also be hard to identify who paid for the art.

Both issues arose in a divorce between a woman who was a trustee for two major art museums and her husband, a real estate developer. Among the couple's collection were works by Picasso and Warhol, but estimates of value varied by the hundreds of millions. Furthermore, despite the woman's position as a trustee, her husband claimed that he had helped pay for the artwork.

A precedent was set in a New York case involving a couple that signed a prenuptial agreement that did not specifically address artwork. It was decided on appeal that invoices were not reliable in determining who paid for a piece of art. Furthermore, where the funds came from may also be significant. For example, paintings bought with funds from a shared account could be regarded differently from those purchased with funds from an individual account. Another issue that could be outside the scope of a prenup is what happens if a wing or gallery is named for a couple that later divorces.

These and other issues might arise in a high-asset divorce. In Arizona, a community property state, there will also be a default assumption that the paintings that were acquired after the marriage are marital property. It might be possible to argue that the paintings were paid for by just one person with his or her income, but income is generally also considered shared property in a community property state. A person who is attached to the paintings might have to offer another asset in lieu of splitting the collection.

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