The Quandary of Dividing Collectibles in a Divorce

In a divorce all the items, vehicles, property and the like purchased during the marriage, whether personal or not, are considered to be part of the marital estate.  In a divorce, the court will consider the value of these items and divide the items up between the spouses.  However, what happens to your collection of rare Beatles vinyl, your vintage Batman comics, your assortment of signed sports paraphernalia, etc.?  In most cases, the courts will not concern itself with personal properties such as clothes, everyday household items, electronics, jewelry and the like unless any of these items have a very significant monetary value, due to the time and legal costs involved in the court making these decisions typically far outweigh the value of the items.  However, collectibles may have a significant monetary value as well as a very significant sentimental value.

Collectibles tend to be in a different category of property, at least in the minds of the spouses.  Spouses can argue strongly over the division of collectibles.  This usually occurs for a couple of different reasons.  The first is that the spouses have differing and sometimes inflated opinions as to the monetary value of the collectibles.  The second reason is that each of the spouses wants the collection for personal reasons.  The personal reasons can vary from both spouses contributed time and money to growing the collection, to the collection may have emotional value to one or both of the spouses.  Further, one of the spouse may feel that the collection belongs to that spouse more than to the other.

However, divorcing spouses need to keep in mind that the courts do not take into consideration their differences in opinion as to the values of the collection or the varying personal reasons that one spouse may want the collection.  The court’s sole job is to divide the property.  If the parties cannot reach an agreement on dividing the collection, the court will treat it like any other property in the marriage, which will include having the collection sold and dividing any proceeds from the sale between the spouses.

One or both of the spouses do not want the collection sold due to the sentimental value .  A record collection, comic book collection, or coin collection usually means more to the collector given the time and effort involved in amassing the collection.  The collector usually has an emotional attachment to the items that far exceeds the “market” value.  As a result, the sale of the collection is often not a good option.

So, how can the issue of collectibles be handled?  Whatever the collection, whether it be comic books, sports paraphernalia, music paraphernalia, vinyl, etc., the first thing spouses should do is discuss their interest in the collection.  If one spouse wants the collection and the other does not have an interest, then this may resolve the issue.  If both parties are interested in the collection, go through the collection and determine if there is a way to divide the collection between the two parties.  It is better to retain some of the collection than to loose it all through a court ordered sale.

If one party has an interest in the collection and the other only in the monetary value of the collection, then have the collection independently appraised by a reputable and trusted expert who can provide a realistic value.  Keep in mind that such an appraiser will charge the parties for the appraisal.  From there, one party can buy out the other party’s interest in the collection.

The spouses can use one or a combination of all of these options.  The spouses can also devise their own creative solution.  The parties to a divorce should keep in mind that the value of a collection, despite the beliefs of the spouses, is usually only worth as much as the colleciton can be sold for, which is often far less than the “market” value of a collection.

Further, the parties should also keep in mind that if a settlement cannot be reached on the division of a collection, the court will often not divide the collection for the parties.  Nor will the court typically assign one spouse ownership of the collection.  So, if that is the decision you are hoping to get from the court, you will likely be disappointed.  Rather, the court usually handles the division of a collection by ordering the collection sold and then dividing the proceeds between the spouses.  Since it will be a forced sale, the spouses are likely to get far less than the “market” value or best price and will also loose the collection.  Finally, the cost in taking the collection issue to trial will often be more in time and legal fees than the collection is worth.  In conclusion, be creative, work with your spouse, and consider the options above in dividing your collection rather than placing the decision in the hands of the court.


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