One divorce attorney notes that in divorce law, artwork is "no different than pots and pans." However, a couple's art collection can easily be worth many thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Further, the estimated value of a piece of art can vary significantly depending on who is appraising it.

It's no wonder that art collections have been at the center of some long, bitter, high-asset divorces. As another attorney noted, "For collectors, art can be even more valuable than the home in which it's hanging."

However, even if you don't have a wing of your home devoted to your acquisitions, you want a fair division of your valuable paintings, sculptures, porcelains and other art in your settlement. Even if a painting isn't your style and you'd never hang it in your new home, if your money helped purchase it, you have a right to get something else worth your share of it in the settlement.

Prenuptial Agreements Can Help

People who have valuable artwork going into a marriage should protect it via a prenuptial agreement. However, a prenup can also codify how art purchased during the marriage will be split in a divorce.

Prenup or not, if a married person buys art that he or she never wants to part with, it's essential to keep documentation showing that it was purchased with non-marital funds. Even if only one person's name appears on the dealer's invoice, if you wrote a check from a joint account, your spouse could have a valid claim for a portion of its value.

Battle of the Appraisers

The valuation of art can come down to a battle of the appraisers (sometimes multiple ones on each side), which can be a costly endeavor on its own. Appraising art is a good deal more subjective than appraising a piece of real estate. If spouses can't agree on an appraised value, the court will have to decide.

If you have an extensive collection of art, antiques, first-edition books or anything else of significant value that you believe you and your spouse may find yourselves in conflict over as you head toward divorce, it's important to advise your family law attorney at the outset so that he or she can help you keep what's rightfully yours or get a fair settlement for your share.

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