Heirlooms, Art Work, and Property Division / by Cassandra Hearn

Property division and financial issues are often at the center of contentious divorce cases.  Dividing property can be particularly nuanced and complicated where the parties have been married for a long time, have substantial assets, or have non-traditional assets, such as a family business.  California is what is referred to as a “community property” state.  This means that each of the spouses will receive half of the marital estate.  When dealing with linens, cookware, or other small items, this is typically a simple process that can be accomplished without too much confusion.  However, when the parties are trying to divide more prized possessions, such as heirlooms or art work, there are additional considerations to take into account.


“Marital property” is defined as any asset purchased or earned by either spouse while the spouses are married and living together.  This is the type of property that is subject to division in the divorce.  By contrast, separate property will not be divided.  Separate property is property that was either received or purchased by one spouse before the marriage began or was received by either spouse during the marriage through inheritance or a gift from someone outside the marriage.  Accordingly, heirlooms are almost always separate property and cannot be divided.  Therefore, any concerns you had that your spouse will be able to lay claim to your grandmother’s pearl necklace that she passed down to you can likely be laid to rest.  Be aware, however, that items that started out as separate property can turn into marital property, depending on how that asset is treated.  Returning to the example of the pearl necklace, if you had the pearls reset in a gold ring and gave that ring to your spouse, then that is no longer separate property. 


Art work and art collections are another type of asset that typically requires special treatment during a divorce.  Art collections are often more than just the sum of their parts, as a complete collection with frequently have a higher value together than if the pieces were sold off one by one.  If the art collection is marital property, you may want to consider having it professionally appraised in order to accurately affix a value.  You and your spouse can agree to divide the collection, that one person will retain it, or that it will be sold.  If the parties cannot agree, it is not unlikely that a judge would ultimately order the collection sold off during the divorce.


We have experience in assisting our clients with all types of property division issues.  Call today for a consultation to discuss your assets