GOOD PRACTICE The art of divorce

Natasha Grande on the pitfalls for divorcing artists and how to avoid them

Real life can be very hard to fit around the demands of a career in the arts - this is not an easy living. 

If a partner or spouse is in the same line of work there could be stresses on both sides of the relationship, with possibly exhibitions and tours hundreds of miles apart. But it can be even more difficult if a partner works in a different sector.

No wonder the divorce rate is so high – and rising.

The story of divorce in the arts world plays out very differently from elsewhere. The key difference is the nature of the assets. 

The starting point in divorce is that everything that is built up during the marriage is split equally, regardless how personal the work is.  This can come as a huge shock to people who pour such personal energy into their work. 

The first step in a divorce is to calculate the marital assets, and then to decide how they should be split.  How much are they worth now and what income can be expected in the future?  For anyone who makes a living in the arts, this is far from straightforward. 

For example, is that now famous artwork, that was almost complete before the marriage, part of the marital assets?  How can you calculate how popular the artist’s future works will be, when artists and styles go in and out of fashion every five minutes?  Was there a flash moment when the popularity and value of an artwork peaked? 

Conversely, is the artist’s body of work now on a downward trend?  A spouse may not accept that a once famous work is now valued less, resulting in expensive litigation if the argument spills into the courts.  All of these questions need to be dealt with carefully and it is vital that the lawyers dealing with this kind of case and any experts appointed understand the industry. 

Other issues unique to divorces in the arts world are that an expensive divorce might mean an artist has to take on a crowd-pleasing commission to bring in money quickly, instead of a less commercial one with more artistic merit that would be better for their brand over time. Also unwanted media attention around a divorce can impact reputations, and therefore potential future earnings, so this needs to be carefully managed too. 

Tips for divorcing well in the arts world

  • Before you marry, get a prenuptial agreement.  Or if you are already married, consider a postnuptial agreement.  It may not feel romantic, but you insure everything else in life, why not your marriage? Prenuptial agreements, though not binding in English law, are being increasingly determinative in divorces. If both parties had legal advice, understood what they were signing up to, the prenuptial agreement is likely to be upheld if it is fair in all the circumstances.
  • Ensure that you both receive legal advice on the prenuptial agreement, that it is signed at least a month before the wedding and that it sets out what assets should be ring-fenced, what financial provision will be made in the event of a divorce, whether that financial provision changes on the birth of children. Ensure that the spirit of the prenuptial agreement reflects the circumstances of you and your partner. If there is a future artwork in the pipeline, make sure the prenuptial agreement is specific about how it will be dealt with on a divorce.
  • Have an honest conversation with your prospective partner before starting a life together. Include where you want to live, whether you want children, what your values are, how you see a work/ life balance, meet each other’s family, to understand who you are setting out on a life with.  It is illuminating in divorce how many issues come from a lack of understanding of a partner’s outlook.
  • Therapy, or a form of alternative dispute resolution, does not just have to be for a couple that is breaking up. The early intervention of a neutral third party can provide a space for issues to be worked through,  and avoid a divorce. 
  • Equally, if you are concerned about the risk of unwanted publicity, and damage to reputation and image rights from a divorce, using an alternative dispute resolution option such as family arbitration can ensure the details of your divorce remain confidential.  There is a push towards transparency in the Family Courts, with a real chance that anonymity could be waived and a final hearing made public. Celebrities that go through high profile divorces are now tending towards private arbitration instead, and other processes that preserve their anonymity.
  • If you have a high profile in the arts and have the resources it is worth hiring someone who deals with reputation law, who can take early intervention if confidential information about your personal life gets posted online, for instance.
  • Be meticulous about your online social media (X, Instagram, threads, Facebook, TikTok, YouTube). Make sure your passwords are secure and do not post anything which is about any ongoing court proceedings. In the UK you could risk a contempt of court offence, a fine or prosecution, if you share information online about your divorce or separation.  If you can afford it, employ a professional to manage the content.
  • Be professional, the art world moves fast, but has a long memory.

 Natasha Grande is a lawyer and head of family at Wilsons Solicitors. She is an expert in arts industry.

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