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In high asset divorce, what becomes of the art?

When couples with a lot of assets divorce, splitting everything up can be tricky. For one wealthy couple who went through the process recently, it was mostly straightforward - except to when it came to art. Their art collection alone was worth an estimated $102 million.

Other items were split without much problem: over $7 million of baseball memorabilia; nearly 2,000 Victorian posey holders; and a 1911 Rolls-Royce worth about $1.4 million. But what about the Monet? And the Renoir?

The couple, who made much of their fortune from the husband's work and stock at Microsoft, tried to divide their art collection as best they could without professional help. However, with 47 pieces including 43 paintings, the task grew to be too difficult.

Their collection includes works by the likes of Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Albert Bierstadt and John Singer Sargent. There were certain pieces that each wanted, but the situation was complicated by the fact that some of the works had not just monetary value, but historical value as well.

For example, a painting by Jasper Francis Cropsey, a 19th century landscape artist, depicted the River Thames and the countryside in England. The painting hung in a house in Great Britain that the wife got in the divorce. The only problem: She was not especially fond of the painting, but England didn't want it to cross the Atlantic.

Eventually, with the help of an attorney, the divorcing couple worked everything out and even traded a couple pieces once everything was settled. But their situation shows how complex the process can be when a wealthy couple decides to split up.

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

• Our firm handles similar situations to the one discussed in this post. If you would like to learn more about our practice, please visit our Denver divorce page.

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