For most artists, their artwork is an expression of their thoughts and creativity as well as a window into their souls. Michigan courts, however, take a very unromantic look at such artwork when determining issues relating to property division when an artist divorces a non-artistic spouse. Artwork is often evaluated as an asset subject to property division.
Historically, artwork purchased as investment has been subject to property division. However in cases where one of the estranged spouses is an artist, all income derived from the artwork sold as well as any unsold artwork created by the spouse may be subject to property division as well. A judge may rule that artwork generated for income may be judged marital property liable for property division.
Income derived from artwork created during the marriage is usually part of the joint marital property. Interestingly, the courts have also ruled that the copyright of the artwork created during the marriage is also regarded as joint marital property.
It is thus advisable for the artist-spouse to make an inventory of all artwork created along with a detailed listing of the time and date when these works of art were created. Artwork created before the marriage may be exempt from property division under Michigan law.
In many cases, artwork created during a separation period before an actual divorce may also be exempt from property division. Any income derived from art-related work, such as commissions and other income derived prior to the marriage, is generally not subject to property division. It may thus be beneficial for the artist-spouse to consult a lawyer familiar with this kind of marital asset to understand which artwork is subject to divisions.
Source: The Huffington Post, "For artists, divorce means splitting up the (art) assets," March 4, 2015