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Property division can be challenging in divorce, even for a judge

When a Louisiana couple acquires assets during their marriage, these assets are considered community property. This means that if the couple divorces, the assets are distributed equally and are subject to a property division. This ensures that each spouse retains a fair amount of any acquired assets. Divorcing couples in New Orleans should take heed that any art they acquire will be split equally when they divorce, even if it is hard to define.

A recent news report detailed how a superior court judge struggled with the term "equal" when he needed to divide a $102 million art collection in a high-asset divorce. Artwork by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Albert Bierstadt and John Singer Sargent were included in the 40 extremely valuable pieces that needed to be fairly divided by the judge.

The husband wanted as many pieces as possible, so he could try and fill the walls in his grand home that was built for entertaining. His wife had a more emotional attachment to some of the individual pieces, which she hoped she could retain. The judge reviewed each party's written request. He also examined other factors, such as capital gains taxes that would need to be paid. When each art piece sold, the dealer or auction house would need to be paid a commission. One of the spouses also claimed that the market value of 19th century artwork would considerably drop if all of the pieces were up for sale at the same time, which would substantially affect their settlement.

The judge finally made a decision on each painting that he thought was equal and fair to both parties. After he issued his order, the couple proposed additional changes to the agreement. It appears that no matter how objective this astute judge tried to be, fair and equitable division of art can still be subjective.

Source: The Seattle Times, "The art of divorce: She gets the Monet, he gets the Renoir," Ken Armstrong, July 28, 2012

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