What happens to the gifts given during marriage when you get divorced?
Couples often celebrate milestones in their marriage or express their affection for each other through the giving of gifts, sometimes even high-value items. But when a marriage comes to an end and divorce happens, one wonders how the gifts will be dealt with. Is the giver of the gift (the donor spouse) able to reclaim it? Does the spouse receiving the gift keep it for themselves? Or will the gift be considered part of the pool of matrimonial assets and its value divided between both spouses? While the first-mentioned scenario will not happen, both the latter two scenarios are possible, depending on the nature of the gift and how it was obtained. This article explains how Singapore law deals with inter-spousal gifts in a divorce. There are 2 types of inter-spousal gifts: (1) Inter-spousal re-gifts; and (2) Pure inter-spousal gifts.
The first type of gift refers to items given to a spouse that were obtained through an inheritance or as a third-party gift and then re-gifted. These gifts are not matrimonial assets and the spouse who receives them would retain the gifts entirely. For example, if your uncle passed away and you inherit a large sum of money which you used to buy a house and gave it to your wife, that would be considered an inter-spousal re-gift. It would be the same if you had received a house as a gift, and then re-gifted it to your wife. In these examples, the property would not be considered a matrimonial asset and its value will not be divided at divorce.
Pure inter-spousal gifts
The second type of gift refers to items that were not obtained through an inheritance or as a third-party gift. A typical example would be a husband who buys his wife a pearl necklace by working hard and saving up for it. These gifts would be counted as matrimonial assets and the value of such gifts would be subject to division between spouses in a divorce. The two types of gifts are treated differently because in pure inter-spousal gifts, the law recognises the effort that the donor spouse has put in to purchase the gift and will give him a portion of the gift’s value, even though he had given it away.
De minimis exception to pure inter-spousal gifts
One situation in which a pure inter-spousal gift is excluded from the pool of matrimonial assets is when the gift is found to be de minimis. Such items will tend to be of a personal nature and low in value relative to the whole matrimonial pool. For example, in the case of Tay Ang Choo Nancy v Yeo Chong Lin, the court found that the gift of jewellery from the husband to the wife was a de minimis gift. The total value of the matrimonial pool in the case was $116,560,000 and the court elaborated that even if the value of the jewellery was $500,000, it would not make a significant impact if added into the matrimonial pool.
|Type of gift||
How it was obtained
|Inclusion in matrimonial pool|
|Inter-spousal re-gifts||Obtained through an inheritance or as a third-party gift||No|
|Pure inter-spousal gifts||Obtained by some other means beside through an inheritance or as a third-party gift||Yes|
Divorce proceedings can turn quickly turn sour when parties are disputing over assets and fighting to get as much as they can. You should do your best to protect yourself by engaging a family lawyer who can advise you on your rights regarding your assets. Please contact us at 6854 5336 to find out more.