When people think of gifts, they typically envision presents given out on special occasions, like birthdays and holidays. Within the context of divorce, however, gifts refer to money or large assets that are given to one or both spouses. These gifts can be given by one spouse to another, or by third parties such as either spouse's family or friends. For example, a woman who owns a house in her own name changes the ownership to a joint tenancy once she is married. This would be considered an interspousal gift, in which separate property is converted into marital property. On the other hand, gifts given to one or both spouses by people outside of the marriage are classified as third party gifts. For most married couples, these gifts usually come from their parents in the form of money, a house, or some other valuable asset.
Wherever they come from, no one can deny that gifts are helpful to a marriage, especially for couples who haven't amassed a large amount of money or properties. Within a divorce, however, gifts are often a source of bitter arguments and legal disputes. As for the law, New Jersey follows the rule of equitable distribution, which dictates that all marital properties must be divided as fairly as possible. In the case of gifts like the marital home, this could be a division of 50/50, even if one spouse owned the home in his or her own name prior to the marriage. In the eyes of the court, you voluntarily changed the ownership, thereby gifting the house to your spouse. Hence, he or she is entitled to their fair share of that gift in the event of a divorce. The same can be said for a situation in which one spouse makes the entire down payment on the marital home. The paying spouse may feel that he has a larger stake in the house, but unless this is specified in writing through a prenuptial agreement, the court will view the down payment as an interspousal gift.
The situation is not so black and white when it comes to gifts from a relative or friend of one of the spouses. This type of third party gift, such as a large sum of money, is typically used for the benefit of both spouses. Even if the gifts was made out to only one spouse, if it was used to purchase a marital asset such as a home, the home is subject to the standard laws of equitable distribution. If the money was directly given to only one spouse, the court may consider awarding that spouse a larger portion, but that possibility is not as likely in the case of a long marriage.
As you can see, there are many legal technicalities that must be considered when dividing up properties in a divorce. To ensure that your rights and interests are protected, please consider speaking with the experienced divorce attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.