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Who Gets the Warhol? Dividing Valuable Art Collections in a Divorce

OK, so you don’t have a Warhol. But you do have a collection of original art and antiques that are worth a considerable amount of money. Given that the worth of these pieces often depends on the current market and the uncertainty of an auction, how can you equitably divide the value of your collection in a divorce? And what if one of you wants to keep a piece? It is a complicated process that will involve several kinds of experts.

Your First Step Is to Inventory Your Collection

If you or your spouse is a serious collector, you should already have a complete inventory of everything you own, including bills of sale, certificates of authenticity, and appraisal reports. If you don’t have an up-to-date inventory of your collection, that is your first step.

The most important part of this process is identifying pieces that were purchased by one of you before you were married. These objects can be removed from the marital property list. Anything acquired during the marriage, however, regardless of who was involved with the purchase, is considered marital property, and the value must be divided during the divorce. Of course, if you had a pre-nuptial agreement that addressed certain works of art or antique pieces, that would also take them off the table.

Can You and Your Spouse Agree on a Plan?

In the best-case scenario, you and your spouse can reach an amicable agreement as to how the art and other valuable objects should be divided. If you are aware of the value of each item and agree on who keeps what, what should be sold, and how the proceeds from the sale will be distributed, you can include the plan in your separation agreement and move on with the rest of the decision. Some couples are able to accomplish the division of property with the help of a mediator, which also avoids the need to have a judge make the decision.

If you cannot agree on how to divide your art and antiques equitably—or there is a disagreement over the value of particular objects—you will likely have to go to court to settle the matter. However, you should be prepared for what will happen in court. In most cases, the judge will simply order that the collection be sold and the proceeds be divided equally. If either of you is hoping to hold on to certain items, you could be jeopardizing that goal by going to court.

Next, You Will Have to Get the Collection Appraised

If you can’t agree on how to divide the collection and you haven’t had the items appraised recently, that will be the next step. Professional art appraisals are subjective and very expensive, so you and your spouse will have to agree on the appraiser you choose to hire. If you don’t agree on who to hire, and one of you disputes the appraiser’s conclusions, you will have wasted everyone’s time and money.

In a contentious divorce, couples sometimes each get their own appraisals and present their side in court. If you suspect this is going to be your situation, you need to be prepared with a lawyer who understands what’s at stake and is ready to fight for what you want. Valuable objects such as works of art and antique pieces can be used as leverage in a divorce negotiation. Whether the art is meaningful to you or to your spouse, you will have to be armed with a knowledgeable lawyer and other experts.

Do You Find Yourself Considering a High Asset Divorce in Virginia?

If you find yourself in the middle of a divorce or are considering a divorce with high assets at stake you need to speak with an experienced divorce attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Fairfax, Virginia law office at 703.277.2811 to schedule your free consultation. We help clients throughout Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia and look forward to helping you.

Related Links:

  • How to Protect Family Heirlooms in a Virginia Divorce

  • Factors That Complicate a Virginia Divorce

  • Virginia High Net Worth Divorce