One of Microsoft’s earliest employees recently finalized a divorce agreement with his ex-wife. The two had been married for 23 years when they separated in 2009 and had acquired many properties jointly and separately and were also both avid art and antique collectors. Dividing up these complex assets proved to be quite a challenge, especially when it came to the art collection.

Divorce filings referred to the art collection as an “illiquid, non-income producing asset,” meaning that the couple was not bargaining for it based on its monetary value even though it was substantial – about $102 million. Instead, both soon-to-be-ex spouses saw the art collection as invaluable pieces which they each valued in a different way.

The court eventually had to step in and help sort out this conflict instead of arbitrarily dividing based on dollar amounts alone. The collection included 43 paintings from luminaries like Claude Monet and 19th-Century American artist John Francis Cropsey. The collection decorated homes in different countries, which meant that the dispute also involved government regulations on exporting art works.

Few Minnesota residents are notable art collectors, but many couples do amass assets that are difficult to place a value on and that are unique or one-of-a-kind. As with art collections, there are many things in our homes that have a certain monetary value but an entirely different sentimental or personal value to each member of the family. In these situations it’s important to balance the personal value of the item with the monetary value so that each party gets the thing that they want without giving up too much in the process.

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