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What happens to the gifts given during marriage when you get divorced?

PKWA FAMILY DIVORCE LAWYERS

Date: 1 June 2021

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Can I get back the gifts given to my spouse if we get divorced?

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Introduction

When a husband gives to his wife a beautiful necklace during a marital milestone, it is intended to be a celebration of their marriage and a symbol of their enduring affections. However, when a marriage turns sour and divorce appears to be looming, the same piece of jewellery can quickly transform to become an item at the centre of many bitter disputes, as the couple fights to decide if the wife should be allowed to keep the necklace or if the husband has a right to reclaim it.

This article explains how jewellery and other gifts given to your spouse during marriage are dealt with in the event of a divorce. Inter-spousal gifts are treated differently depending on the nature of the gift and how it was obtained.

There are 2 types of inter-spousal gifts: (1) Inter-spousal re-gifts; and (2) Pure inter-spousal gifts.

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Inter-spousal re-gifts

The first type of gifts 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, imagine there was a loved one in your family who recently passed away and had left you a large sum of money in their will. Using this inherited money, you went and purchased a house which you then gave to your wife. The house would be considered an inter-spousal re-gift. This means that in a divorce, this house will not become part of the pool of the matrimonial assets and your wife would keep it entirely. The same situation would happen if you had inherited a house immediately, instead of a sum of money, and then you re-gifted the house to your wife. This is also classified as an inter-spousal re-gift that is excluded from division at divorce.

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Pure inter-spousal gifts

The second type of gifts refers to items that were not obtained through an inheritance or as a third-party gift. These gifts would have been purchased by the spouse using money gained in their personal capacity, whether through saving up their salary, making sound investments, or even winning money in a lottery. Gifts obtained in such a manner and then given to one’s spouse 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 to his spouse.

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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, often including items such as clothing and jewellery. 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 gifted jewellery was $500,000, it would not make a significant impact if added into the matrimonial pool.

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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, but with the exception of de minimis gifts

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Divorce proceedings can quickly become fraught with anger and bitterness 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.

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