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What happens to heirlooms in a New York divorce?

On Behalf of | Nov 27, 2023 | Divorce

Family heirlooms often hold great value both sentimentally and economically. Even the least valuable one in terms of money can be significant in emotional terms.

In a divorce, heirlooms can be points of contention. New York law treats heirlooms like any other property, but there are nuances.

Equitable distribution

The state follows the principle of equitable distribution when it comes to dividing marital property. This means that rather than a strictly equal split, the court aims to divide assets acquired during the marriage (excluding gifts and inheritance granted solely to one spouse) fairly. While the market value of an heirloom is a factor, the sentimental value holds weight in the court’s decision. If an heirloom has a past spanning several generations, the court might lean towards keeping it within the family to maintain the continuity of heritage.


Even though courts tend to want to keep heirlooms with their original families for sentimental reasons, they may deviate from this in certain situations. For instance, heirlooms gifted to a spouse, such as a wedding ring or an antique passed down to the daughter-in-law, generally stay with that spouse since they are presents. If the heirloom is part of marital funds or the spouse not from the original owner’s family contributed to its value through restoration or other means, that may also influence the court’s decision.

The New York Post states that out of 2,000 individuals polled, 42% had an heirloom with a history spanning back at least 50 years. Heirlooms can have a great deal of meaning as well as memories tied to them, so their involvement in divorce proceedings can be a tricky deal. In general, courts try to honor the sentiment attached to these items by keeping them with the original family, but this is not always the case.

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