Marital Property: Kurt Cobain’s Guitar Goes to Isaiah Silva in Divorce

The guitar at the center of Frances Bean Cobain’s divorce from Isaiah Silva has gone to Silva. In court, Silva claimed Cobain gave him one of her father’s most iconic guitars – the Martin D-18E he used on MTV’s Unplugged in one of his last performances as a wedding gift.

Of course, Cobain maintains she never meant to gift the guitar to her husband.

People magazine:

Court documents recently filed show that Cobain stated Silva could have the guitar but should not receive any money from her father’s $450 million estate. The filing reportedly asks that all premarital assets be awarded to her as separate property.

One of the biggest challenges in any divorce is division of property. When two people marry, their personal property will be commingled to a large degree. A good prenup can make sure that any especially valuable or meaningful property that a party brings into the marriage is protected in case of divorce, but there are a few scenarios like this one, that are not so clear-cut.

Possession may be nine-tenths of the law, but we are examining that last tenth- ownership. Portable possessions within a marriage can be removed easily by either party, regardless of ownership. Here, the question is not who currently has the property in his or her possession, but who legally owns it. In this case, it appears Silva will have the guitar.

The Unique Niche of Marital Gifts

This story captures the difficulties that can arise over what constitutes separate and marital property. Gifts given between spouses and received by spouses from third parties occupy a unique niche. When a third party gives a gift to one of a couple, it becomes that person’s separate property, but when one spouse gives a gift to another, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, it becomes marital property and thus subject to division in a divorce.

The dividing lines between marital and separate property can be blurry at the best of times, and vary from marriage to marriage. A solid prenuptial agreement can save both parties much grief during a divorce by clarifying who gets what from the outset.

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