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The question of whether something belongs to one party or another in a divorce can be tricky to determine. Just because one spouse is the primary user of a particular item does not necessarily mean the property belongs solely to them.

Consider the following case:

My husband frequently gave me nice jewelry during our marriage for special occasions. Much of the jewelry was very expensive. We are now getting divorced and he wants one-half of the value of the jewelry. Can he claim an interest in the jewelry?

All property acquired by either the wife or the husband during marriage is community property, except that which is acquired by gift or inheritance. When it comes to jewelry, the issue of whether an item was a gift or a community investment will depend on the circumstances surrounding the giving and receipt of the jewelry, and sometimes on the value of the jewelry in question.

The fact the wife wears the jewelry is not sufficient for a legal finding it was a gift to her. An analysis of whether a gift occurred from one spouse to the other is the same analysis that would be used if the spouses were strangers. There must be a clear intention by one spouse to divest his or herself of any interest in the property, the property must be actually given or delivered to the other person, and possession or control of the property by the receiving spouse must occur.

The fact that the jewelry was given to the wife on a special occasion, such as a birthday, may helpful in establishing the legal requirements of a gift. On the other hand, sometimes jewelry or loose stones are purchased as an investment for the community. If the husband can prove it was an investment, he is entitled to one-half of the value of such items.

Here is another case:

My wife wanted a classic convertible to drive for fun, so we purchased one for her to drive on the weekends. She picked it out and finalized the purchase without me, paying for it from one of our joint accounts. She also put the title in her name alone. We are now getting divorced and she says the car is hers because she picked it out and is the one who drives it. Is the car her sole and separate property?

No. The title on a vehicle does not define whether it is “sole and separate” or “community” property. In this case, the car was purchased during the marriage with community funds. Therefore, it is presumed to be community property. Community property is divided equitably in a divorce. The elements of a gift from the husband to the wife are not present, and the fact she primarily uses the vehicle does not make it hers. As such, the presumption of community property has not been overcome.

As you can see by these two examples, each situation requires careful examination. An experienced family lawyer with Hallier Stearns PLC can help you with this and other legal matters in a divorce. Contact us for more information.