More Monet, more problems: dividing art in a divorce

Here in Massachusetts, all property is divided into two categories: separate and marital property. Whatever was acquired prior to marriage, or was specifically purchased or given to one spouse during the marriage, is considered separate property. Whatever doesn’t fall into this category, however, is considered marital property and subject to equitable distribution.

Sometimes the line between separate and marital property can become blurred though, which can make the distribution process extra contentious. This happens most often with property where spouses disagree on who has ownership of the piece or when one spouse has a particular attachment to the item over their spouse. To demonstrate this potential problem, we’ll use the example of a couple arguing over a piece of artwork.

John and Jane Doe have been married for 10 years and have decided to get a divorce. All of their assets and liabilities have been separated into the two property categories, save for one painting the couple got during the marriage. Jane claims the painting was a gift from John and should therefore be considered separate property. John disagrees, saying that the painting was for both of them and is marital property.

So how would a dispute like this be resolved?

Here in Massachusetts, disputes like this are often handled by the courts. Judges take a number of factors into consideration before deciding who gets what in the property division step. In the case of the painting above, a judge would not only consider when the painting was purchased but who the intended recipient was.

A judge would also consider the painting’s actual value as well as its sentimental value to each spouse. Though other factors may be taken into consideration, these main factors could mean the difference between Jane getting the painting over John, or vice versa.

As you can see from this example, even something as simple as a painting requires a lot of thought when it comes to property division. We just hope it’s an issue our readers do not confront without the help of a skilled attorney.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “Tips for Dividing Art in a Divorce or Death,” Daniel Grant, Sept. 21, 2014