How to distribute the wine collection after a divorce

I was at my local neighborhood wine shop getting a few bottles  for dinner (I’m cooking!) when I thought of this post. wineHow does the court distribute the wine collection in a divorce action? Hme….Admittedly, most people don’t have this particular problem since most people don’t have wine collections. At least, nothing of serious value like some people tend to have. I am talking wine cellars with wines that are valued in excess of six figures some times. Obviously, one has to be really affluent to have that kind of thing lying around in the basement, and be serious wine enthusiasts too with subscriptions to Wine Enthusiast and other snooty wine magazines and publications.  Not like me over here who just goes in and picks up what’s on sale that day and under twenty bucks.
So for those affluent, serious collectors, when they divorce, it is left to the courts to decide who gets what. If they are in an equitable distribution state like New York, it is going to depend on a lot of factors such as who bought them? And with what money? What are the other distributable assets? What is the value of the collection as compared to other assets? Things like that….
I did a bit of a Google search and came across this case that occurred in 2004 in Tennessee. It was a rather interesting case involving a husband who, the wife alleged, had a drinking problem that was so bad that once, his son witnessed him so wasted that the father’s face fell into his dinner. It was beyond hilarious. Anyways, the case as a court of appeals case:  APPEALS OF TENNESSEE AT JACKSON September 23, 2004 Session DUKE BOWERS CLEMENT v. JANET LEIGH TRAYLOR CLEMENT To begin with, the Clements were quite well off. Their assets included million dollar homes, condominiums and farms in Tennessee and Arkansas, family businesses, stocks/cash, memberships in hunting clubs and, of course, the wine collection which the wife claimed was worth close to $70,000. It’s not exactly a million dollar collection. But still. When was the last time I got my grubby little paws on a collection worth even $500? So I’m impressed with the Clements’ collection right off the bat. That is a lot of money just in wine, I gotta admit. So, in the Clement case, the wife’s appeal was prefaced on the fact that the lower court did not value the wine collection and did not include it as “marital property” and thus did not give her an equitable share of it as a settlement.
 Keeping in mind once again that “equitable distribution” does not necessarily mean “equal distribution” and rather only means what is fair, here is what Tennessee Law says about what marital property is according to the Court of Appeals in the Clement case (which, by the way, is slightly different from what New York Law says on the issue.)Under Tennessee law, marital property includes all personal property held by the spouses in a divorce proceeding, as long as such property was acquired during the marriage.
So basically, the Tennessee Court of Appeals found that the way to distribute the wine collection was to do so “equitably” like one would any other tangible or intangible asset acquired in a marriage. By the way, check out the case for yourself. It’s quite a read with a few hilarious parts thrown in for good measure: § 36-4-121(b)(1)(A) reads, in relevant part,

“Marital property” means all real and personal property, both tangible and intangible,
acquired by either or both spouses during the course of the marriage up to the date
of the final divorce hearing and owned by either or both spouses as of the date of
filing of a complaint for divorce, except in the case of fraudulent conveyance in
anticipation of filing, and including any property to which a right was acquired up to
the date of the final divorce hearing, and valued as of a date as near as reasonably

possible to the final divorce hearing date. (Emphasis added.)

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Originally published November 26, 2009