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Understanding legal status of an artist's artwork in a divorce

New York couples who are dealing with marital issues may be interested in learning about how certain types of property are handled in a divorce. Creative works can present particular issues due to the sentimental value to their creator.

When one of the spouses getting divorced is an artist, this creates certain issues that need to be dealt with as part of the property division process. One of these issues is the fact that artwork that was created during the marriage is seen as property that is owned by both spouses, regardless of the artist's sentimental feelings toward those assets. As such, these items would be eligible for division during the divorce. Additionally, any licensing agreements connected with that artwork may also be considered marital property and be subject to division.

In cases where there is a difficulty in determining a valuation for the artwork, such as when it has never been displayed or the artist is unknown, an appraisal may be necessary. This is generally performed by an expert art appraiser or a gallery owner. Sometimes, the spouses each rely on their own appraiser's opinions, making it necessary for a judge to rule or for the parties to be able to negotiate an agreement. Negotiations may also allow the parties to come up with creative solutions for the division of property, such as giving a percentage of future licensing royalties or sales of the artwork in exchange for other assets.

Navigating through this process can be difficult without the assistance of a family law attorney who has experience in divorce matters. As the property division determination will be made by the court in accordance with equitable distribution principles, it is sometimes more advantageous for the attorney to attempt to negotiate an agreement that will satisfy the needs of the client.

Source: Huffington Post, "For Artists, Divorce Means Splitting Up the (Art) Assets", Daniel Grant, March 3, 2015

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