Who Gets the Wedding Gifts?

When a couple is getting divorced, whether after a twenty year marriage or a 72 day marriage, one of the issues that must be dealt with as part of the divorce proceeding is the distribution of the wedding gifts, or any gifts to either spouse during the marriage.

At Lyons & Associates, we specialize in all aspects of matrimonial and family law, and distribution of the wedding gifts and other marital properties are some of the many issues we deal with during divorce negotiations and litigation.

Several factors come into play when making the determination of who gets the wedding gifts, particularly the length of the marriage and to whom the gift was given. Generally, the presumption in the State of New Jersey is that a wedding gift was given to the couple; therefore, the gift is marital property and considered part of the marital estate that would be subject to distribution amongst the parties in a divorce proceeding. Any spouse claiming the wedding gift, or any gift, was given to one individual versus the other will need to provide proof of the donor’s intent, usually through the donor’s testimony or certification under oath, and cannot have commingled that gift during the marriage. A gift is “commingled” if the spouse to whom it was given uses it in a manner that benefits the other spouse, the marriage, or the non-receiving spouse actively contributes to increasing the value of that gift during the marriage. If, however, the recipient of the gift keeps the gift entirely separate from the marriage, for example, depositing money into a separate account where it remains throughout the marriage without being utilized to benefit the marriage, then the likelihood of that gift being considered separate property is much higher. The spouse must demonstrate “a clearly manifested and unequivocal intent” that the asset would remain the separate property of that party. Wadlow v. Wadlow, 200 N.J. Super. 372, 380 (App. Div. 1985).

While some rules of etiquette might indicate that after a short-term marriage couples should return their gifts to the guests, the law of New Jersey does not require the couple to do so. As long as the individual giving the gift actually intended to give the gift and delivered it to the couple, and the couple accepted, there is no onus on the couple to return that gift for any reason. Pascale v. Pascale, 113 N.J. 20, 29 (1988). There are no conditions tied to the giving of the gift to the couple.

Gifts versus Loans

What about the $20,000 a parent gives to a couple to make a down payment on their first marital residence? Is this contribution considered a gift or loan to the couple?

In keeping with the Court’s mandate in Wadlow, a Court will look to the intent of the parties and the intent of the donor. Most often intent will be difficult to prove in these cases unless there is a promissory note or some other written instrument indicating the large contribution was a loan versus a gift. However, for the Court in Wadlow, despite the clear commingling of the Wife’s $20,000 that she acquired before the marriage, the Court found that the parties “always had the feeling that [the money] had come from [the wife’s] family and as a result of her efforts before marriage and eventually would be returned.” 200 N.J. Super. at 380. The Court recognized the Wife’s entitlement to those assets.

If you are involved in high conflict divorce litigation involving any of these issues, hire a family law attorney who is familiar with these types of cases and who will be able to effectively represent your interests in Court.

Call Lyons & Associates today at 908-575-9777 to speak with one of our skilled attorneys who can work you through the process with both knowledge and understanding. You can also fill out our online intake form

Written by: Kristyl Berckes, Esq.