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Lacey Divorce Lawyer- The Engagement Ring and Other Conditional Gifts

Posted by Vincent Deluca | Nov 22, 2019 | 0 Comments

The breakup of an engagement is undoubtedly a sad event, but it's certainly preferable to a divorce.  At that point, couples may have to negotiate “who gets what” for items that they've acquired together, but it's typically less complicated than a divorce settlement.  Still, there are quite a number of disputes among formerly engaged couples that are brought before the civil courts.  The fate of the engagement ring is straight-forward; in New Jersey, it's considered a conditional gift.  Hence, if the marriage doesn't take place, the condition hasn't been met, and the gift must be returned to the gifter.  The returning of the ring is required regardless of who called off the engagement, or any damages that the recipient incurred as a result of the broken engagement.  In essence, the right to recover the ring is solely an issue of one's right to recover a conditional gift, not a fault-based claim for compensation.

Some gifts require more analysis, especially when couples cohabitate and acquire major properties in both of their names.  In Aranow v. Silver, an engaged couple bought a house in both their names, although the defendant made the entire down payment.  The couple, who were living together at the time they bought the house, split up right after the defendant moved into the new house.  The plaintiff never lived in the property, nor did she contribute anything towards the payments.  Although the house was listed under both names, the court still awarded the house in full to the defendant.  They ruled that the plaintiff's name be removed from the title and mortgage, and that she be absolved of any responsibility for the mortgage.  In this case, the house was ruled a conditional gift, even though it was purchased under both names.

Another complication is the gift that was purchased “in contemplation of marriage”, and what happens to those gifts in the event of a divorce.  In Winer v. Winer, the husband bought a condo before the marriage solely in his name and solely with his funds.  During the divorce, he argued that this was a separate asset and therefore not subject to equitable distribution.  However, he admitted that at the time of purchase, he did plan for him and his wife to live there once they married.  That was enough for the courts to rule that the condo was bought “in contemplation of marriage”, and since the marriage clearly happened, the property was subject to equitable distribution.  As you can see, there are many circumstances to consider when deciding one's right to gifts exchanged during the engagement period.  In some cases, the courts have taken a more flexible definition of “marriage” and used dates other than the actual wedding date as the beginning of the marital partnership.  That's why it's important to speak to an experienced attorney should you have questions or concerns about your premarital properties.  For more information on conditional gifts in New Jersey, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.

The breakup of an engagement is undoubtedly a sad event, but it's certainly preferable to a divorce.  At that point, couples may have to negotiate “who gets what” for items that they've acquired together, but it's typically less complicated than a divorce settlement.  Still, there are quite a number of disputes among formerly engaged couples that are brought before the civil courts.  The fate of the engagement ring is straight-forward; in New Jersey, it's considered a conditional gift.  Hence, if the marriage doesn't take place, the condition hasn't been met, and the gift must be returned to the gifter.  The returning of the ring is required regardless of who called off the engagement, or any damages that the recipient incurred as a result of the broken engagement.  In essence, the right to recover the ring is solely an issue of one's right to recover a conditional gift, not a fault-based claim for compensation.

Some gifts require more analysis, especially when couples cohabitate and acquire major properties in both of their names.  In Aranow v. Silver, an engaged couple bought a house in both their names, although the defendant made the entire down payment.  The couple, who were living together at the time they bought the house, split up right after the defendant moved into the new house.  The plaintiff never lived in the property, nor did she contribute anything towards the payments.  Although the house was listed under both names, the court still awarded the house in full to the defendant.  They ruled that the plaintiff's name be removed from the title and mortgage, and that she be absolved of any responsibility for the mortgage.  In this case, the house was ruled a conditional gift, even though it was purchased under both names.

Another complication is the gift that was purchased “in contemplation of marriage”, and what happens to those gifts in the event of a divorce.  In Winer v. Winer, the husband bought a condo before the marriage solely in his name and solely with his funds.  During the divorce, he argued that this was a separate asset and therefore not subject to equitable distribution.  However, he admitted that at the time of purchase, he did plan for him and his wife to live there once they married.  That was enough for the courts to rule that the condo was bought “in contemplation of marriage”, and since the marriage clearly happened, the property was subject to equitable distribution.  As you can see, there are many circumstances to consider when deciding one's right to gifts exchanged during the engagement period.  In some cases, the courts have taken a more flexible definition of “marriage” and used dates other than the actual wedding date as the beginning of the marital partnership.  That's why it's important to speak to an experienced attorney should you have questions or concerns about your premarital properties.  For more information on conditional gifts in New Jersey, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.

About the Author

Vincent Deluca

A founding member of Villani & DeLuca and has devotes the entirety of his practice to family law. Mr. DeLuca Esq. is a trained divorce mediator and collaborative divorce attorney

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Vincent DeLuca, Esq.

As a founding partner at Villani & DeLuca, Vincent DeLuca is one of only a few Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney in Ocean County, New Jersey. Mr. DeLuca has helped many clients navigate the delicate details of their own divorce. Mr. DeLuca is also a trained divorce mediator and collaborative divorce attorney. Call today at (732) 965-3404 to speak to Mr. DeLuca or one of our experienced NJ Divorce Lawyers.

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