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Artists and property division in divorce

Individuals in Massachusetts may be aware that business owners who are divorcing may need to think about how that business will be considered an asset during property division, but many people might not realize that the same is true for artists. Painters, sculptors, filmmakers and others who create works of art often must work out how those pieces are shared with a soon-to-be former spouse.

As with other types of property, art created after a couple has separated or before they are married is generally considered to belong to the individual who created it, but work done during the couple's marriage belongs to both of them. How this art is divided may depend upon a number of factors, such as how established the artist is and how much the spouse anticipates the art is worth. For example, for an artist at the beginning of a career or with few sales, a spouse may relinquish a claim on the art in favor of other assets such as a car or computer.

For more established artists, it may be possible to work out a system in which payments to the spouse decrease over time. For example, when cartoonist Charles Schultz and his wife divorced, they agreed that she would initially receive revenue from his work at 27 percent, but over a 10-year period, that would decrease to 15 percent.

Artists who are divorcing may want to consult an attorney regarding this potentially complex property division. During negotiations, an artist may need to consider what factors are most important. For example, it may be necessary to decide whether control over the work is more important than sharing revenue or whether it is worth trading other assets for complete ownership of the art.

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