Gifts. This topic really hits close to home for me. While I have never been engaged or married, one of my past relationships centered a lot on gifts. My ex loved to surprise me with them. Nothing off the charts expense-wise, but both of us really valued surprise gifts or buying something nice for special occasions. Looking back, I wonder if we were always trying to one-up each other. He always seemed competitive with me so it would make sense that this would translate into our gift giving. One gift turned into 2, then 3, then 4, with various elements and add-on gifts for Dollar (my dog). Gifts turned into trips, and tickets, and events.
But, like so many relationships, ours ended. So, like any decent human being, I was surprised when he asked for his gifts back. Maybe it’s the way I was raised, but when I give a gift I feel that it becomes yours. I would never ask for it back, no matter how much I hated you down the line. It’s in the past, and it came from the heart when I gave it to you. Often, when relationships come to a bitter end, the first thing an ex asks for is the gifts back. So I began to wonder how the law handles this situation. (By the way, I gave him back that damn GoPro camera I never asked for.)
For Daters: I always like to break down my analysis for those of you dating, and then those of you more serious (engaged, married, divorcing). At one point or another we will all be going through most of these steps so in the future, expect my posts to go through these stages. At any rate, dating of course comes with no official documentation. You simply follow the general laws of gift giving. Generally, if someone gives you an item and it is intended as a gift when it is given to you, you have no obligation to return it. Courts will look to evidence of the intent of the giver to determine whether or not it is treated as gift. Did it come with a card, was it a birthday present, when was it given to you, etc. The only way to overcome this is if the giver can prove it was loaned to you, sold to you, etc. Most of the time normal people make no records of gifts, so if it comes down to a court case, it will be your words against the words of your ex to try to prove whether or not it was a gift. If your ex is spiteful enough to take you to court, my advice is just to give the item back and move on with your life. Saves you time and drama. Generally however, a gift is yours to keep.
Engaged/Married? Gifts at this stage of a relationship often translate to an engagement ring or some other more valuable item. This analysis can be complicated based on what the gift is and what state you live in. So let’s talk engagement rings and let’s talk California. Interestingly, the current case law deems that for heterosexual couples, if a woman receives an engagement ring and calls off the engagement, she must give the ring back to the man. If the man calls off the wedding, the woman gets to keep the ring. * Raises hand* Lex – I’m gay. My thought exactly. Currently, there are no cases in California that clarify what happens in the situation of a same-sex couple who have exchanged rings and call off their engagement. Generally, I would think that each partner in the same sex engagement has the same ring, so perhaps that is why there are no cases on this to date. In that case, it would make sense that each person keep their own ring. Once married, of course, I would advise that your prenup specify what happens with any large gifts exchanged prior to and during the marriage in a certain outcome. When both of you are in love and on the same page, it would make sense to sign off on something that says I get back that birthday BMW I bought you if you cheat on me.
However, absent a written agreement and engagement ring scenario, a gift is yours to keep if it is meant to be a gift.
Questions, comments, concerns, think you may need an attorney?