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Division of artists’ creative works as a joint marital asset

Artists in Missouri who are divorcing may think about how to divide the house and the bank accounts without realizing that their art may be considered a marital asset as well. Any artwork that is created after a couple is married and prior to separation or filing for divorce is jointly owned. However, there may be a number of ways to divide up such an asset depending on the individual circumstances of the artist and the couple.

There may be some speculation involved in valuing artwork that has not yet sold. An artist’s spouse may consent to relinquishing a claim on the artwork in exchange for other assets or for being released from some debt obligations. This rule applies to work that has a copyright as well as to visual artists, so filmmakers and writers may also be affected.

Some prominent couples have come up with creative solutions. Comedian Jerry Lewis and his wife got a divorce after 35 years. His wife agreed to relinquish any ownership in the films in exchange for a half-interest in royalties. Cartoonist Charles Schultz and his wife agreed that after 24 years of marriage, she would initially receive 27 percent of revenue that would scale down to 15 percent in a decade.

Both artists and spouses of artists might benefit from the counsel of an attorney due to the potential complexity of valuing and dividing creative work as an asset. There may also be different solutions for a mid-career or late-career artist than for one who is at the start of a career. Early in a career, to some degree, the direction of negotiations may rest on the confidence of spouse in the potential future value of works.