Dividing assets in a divorce is not only a requirement, it can be a difficult aspect of a divorce. If so, valuing an art collection is singularly one of the most disputed parts of a divorce. Not only is valuation a problem, but people are emotionally attached to their artwork as one billionaire couple in New York has found out.

art of divorce

Billionaire’s Row

The ex-husband is Harry Macklowe, a real estate developer. The ex-wife is Linda Macklowe, an honorary trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who is passionate about collecting modern art.

Together they have accumulated a $72 million apartment, so large it runs the full length of one side of the Plaza Hotel, with windows overlooking Central Park. A second Manhattan apartment is high up in one of the tallest buildings in the Western Hemisphere, along the so-called Billionaires’ Row.

Their $19 million house in the Hamptons on Long Island has neighbors with boldface names, including Martha Stewart and Steven Spielberg. The $23.5 million yacht is a 150-foot-long prizewinner.

And then there is the art collection, an enormous trove of masterpieces that the judge presiding over the divorce described as “extraordinary” and “internationally renowned” and that has become the latest chapter in the exes’ rancorous unraveling. Among the more than 150 pieces are multiple works by Pablo Picasso, Jeff Koons, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko.

The exes’ lawyers have fought about what most of them were worth — one rare moment of agreement came when two art experts hired separately by the exes both valued an Andy Warhol creation filled with images of Marilyn Monroe at $50 million — and who should get them.

Florida Property Division

I have written about property division before. Florida is an equitable distribution state when it comes to dividing art in divorce. In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage, in addition to all other remedies available to a court to do equity between the parties, a court must set apart to each spouse that spouse’s nonmarital assets and liabilities.

In distributing the marital assets and liabilities between the parties, the court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal, unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution.

Whenever an agreement cannot be made between the spouses, the court’s distribution of marital assets or marital liabilities must be supported by factual findings and be based on competent evidence. Whether the court distributes artwork equally or not, the court must make specific written findings of fact as to each marital asset and the individual valuation of significant assets, and designation of which spouse shall be entitled to each asset.

Because an effective valuation is important, most attorneys will hire an expert appraiser to provide the appropriate report and testimony to the court.

It’s Up to You New York, New York

The Macklowes’ divorce comes with the twist of an impressive art collection that has been valued at as much as nearly $1 billion. In 2016, Mr. Macklowe told Ms. Macklowe that the marriage was over. By the end of last year, the Macklowes’ divorce had been granted. Mr. Macklowe then put giant images of himself and Patricia Landeau, his new wife, on the side of a luxury condominium building in Manhattan that he built.

But the wrangling continued over how to divide an art collection that David N. Redden, a former vice chairman of Sotheby’s, called “fairly staggering” and “one of the great prizes.” In the Macklowes’ divorce, the former spouses had to unload the art “to sustain their lifestyle. They don’t have the cash.” About 60 to 75 percent of their assets were tied up in the art collection.

As for the value of the art, during the lower-court proceeding, each side hired an expert to appraise the art. Mr. Macklowe’s expert estimated the value at $788 million; Ms. Macklowe’s expert said $625 million.

“If this had been a case with one or two fewer zeros, it would be an ordinary kind of dispute. Because of the prominence of the parties and the amount of money involved, this is a case that attracts natural attention.”

Ms. Macklowe did not want to let anything go. “She stated that she wished to enjoy the collection and sell individual pieces only as necessary to support her standard of living.” That would have posed tax problems for Mr. Macklowe. The wife wanted all the major pieces of art to go to her, and she would decide what to sell and when to sell it. The husband would have to pay taxes on what would be sold, because the value that would be attributed to the works would be the after-tax value. She would keep the art, the art would get sold and he would pay the taxes.

The New York Times article is here.