Dealing with art collections in a divorce

Some couples in Charlotte might need to divide an art collection in a divorce. This can be a complex process that involves determining the value of the art and whose money was used to pay for it.

In one case, a couple’s collection, which included work by Rothko and Picasso, had estimates by appraisers that differed by hundreds of millions of dollars. There is also a debate as to who had built the collection since the woman is a trustee of the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but her husband said he helped pay for them.

A precedent was set in New York in a case involving a son of the billionaire George Soros. The attorney successfully argued that invoices alone were not sufficient to establish who had paid for a piece of art. In addition to carefully tracking purchases, it is important to specify the origins of the funding, such as whether it came from an individual’s account or a shared account.


The couple had a prenuptial agreement that did not include artwork, but even when art collections are included, there could be pitfalls. For example, one prenup was dismissed because at the time it was signed, it was written in a language that one person in the couple could not read.

In a high-asset divorce, an art collection may be one of many valuable assets that must be divided. Once an agreement has been reached regarding the ownership and value of assets, couples might be able to negotiate an arrangement for property division with their attorneys instead of going to court. One decision they might have to make is to either sell the collection and split the proceeds or to each take a part of the collection. Another option could be for one person to keep another asset while the other one takes the collection.

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