California Divorce Report: When Is A Gift Not A Gift?

September 12, 2011
By Thomas M. Huguenor on September 12, 2011 8:31 AM |

Justia-photo-113 diamond ring.jpegAs a San Diego Certified Family Law Specialist Lawyer, continuing education is a part of the work of my office. Since my office only works in the field of Family Law, the research of new cases and statutes is greatly limited whereas a general practice attorney has a duty of continuing education in a variety of fields of law. One issue in family law that seems to never go away is the Husband requesting the engagement ring returned to him, from the Wife, pursuant to the divorce proceeding. The Husband may claim that the ring is very valuable, or that it is community property, or that the Wife secured it by fraud, etc.

ABC News reports of a man, Mr. Mekalian (James), who sued his former fiancee, Ms. Grazioli (Nichole) for the return of the engagement ring and a car or monetary damages to replace the value of both items. I've researched James' pleadings and you may see the Complaint here. His case is based on alleged fraud, and other. He specifically cites Civil Code Section 1590 which allows the donor (giver of the engagement ring in contemplation of marriage) to require the done to return the ring or the value of the ring if the marriage does not occur.

James accuses Nichole of acting in a fraudulent manner. Nichole is not commenting on the law suit. Presumably she may state that she had many marriage opportunities and that when she received the ring she terminated all other relationships and that she acted in good faith during this engagement. 1590 does require the judge or jury to consider all circumstances of the case and that the judge or jury find that which is just under the circumstances of the particular case. James apparently thinks that Nichole is a "gold digger" however the judge or jury may not agree. Possible James should seek a woman for marriage who has a job, and an income, and doesn't need James' money as in the video below of a five year old girl who charming millions on the Internet.

The legal factors and variables as to this legal issue are many. Can the Husband obtain the ring back after the marriage (for example, when they file for a divorce)? Will Nichole (news story above) prevail by simply proving that the ring was a gift to her? (See Burkle v. Burkle (2006) 141 Cal.App.4th 1029, 46 Cal.Rptr.3d 562, listing the elements of a “gift”—donor’s competency and willingness to make a gift; delivery of item to donee; acceptance of gift by donee, and other factors.) If you are a donor and you are giving a very, very expensive ring to your fiancee, shouldn’t you see a lawyer about a contract, or pre marital agreement?

In Family Court, the wedding ring or engagement ring issue is essentially a property division issue. Is the ring the separate property of one of the spouses, or is it the community property of both spouses? The San Diego divorce attorneys of the Law Office of Thomas M. Huguenor handle family law and divorce cases.