Artwork is just like any other asset during a divorce. It has to be divided. It's a marital asset. Some have compared it to simple things like pots and pans. Is there really any difference between a painting that a couple bought and a new couch or a shoe collection?
There is one potential difference: the value. Some people have art collections -- or even single pieces -- that are worth millions of dollars. Some collections reach upwards of a billion dollars. While these may be assets in the same way that pots and pans are, they're clearly a different animal when you're trying to break that down during divorce.
That perceived value brings up another issue, which is that the process is subjective. Artwork, it can be argued, has very little intrinsic value. It doesn't perform a function. That is to say, a million dollar painting is only worth $1 million if someone will pay $1 million for it.
That makes valuation difficult, according to some experts. One even went so far as to say the whole process is "crap." That expert claimed the only true way to find the value was to take the art, put it on the market, and sell it. The price it brought in was the real value.
Of course, people want to know the value during divorce not to sell it, but to split it up evenly. If the valuation comes in at $1 million and a person takes a painting instead of the summer home, but then finds he or she can really only sell it for $100,000, that person did not get a fair split. Meanwhile, a look at some nearby comparisons can confirm that the summer home really is worth $1 million in the current market.
This type of asset division gets very complex and can be confrontational, which is why those involved must know all of their legal options.
Source: Town & Country, "In a High Profile Divorce, Who Gets the Art?," Julie Belcove, Jan. 10, 2018