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Conditional Gifts in Divorce
Is the engagement ring part of equitable distribution?

No, an engagement ring is always considered to be a conditional gift. The marriage is the condition of the gift. See, Aronow v. Silver, 233 N.J. Super 344, 347 (Ch. Div. 1987). Thus, in a divorce the wife gets to keep the engagement ring.

If an engagement is broken off, then the giver of the ring has the legal right to have the ring returned to him. However, the giver of the ring has the legal burden to prove that the ring was actually given as an engagement ring.

On the other hand, if the ring was not given as an engagement ring, but was instead merely given as a symbol of love, then the ring is not considered to be a conditional gift. See, Gerard v. DiStefano, 84 N.J. Super 396 (Ch. Div. 1964). Because the intent is to give sole ownership to the receiver of the ring, once the marriage is completed, then the ring becomes the separate property of the receiver. Therefore, the engagement ring is not subject to equitable distribution, See, Winer v. Winer, 241 N.J. Super. 510 (App. Div. 1990).

How is a home treated if a couple purchases a home together before they get married?

If a couple purchases a home together in then contemplation of marriage, then New Jersey law deems the couple to have equal ownership of the home. Until the couple is married, the parties are deemed to own the home in proportion to their individual contributions. However, once the couple is married then New Jersey law will deem the couple to equally own the home. If the marriage does not take place, then the home will be divided in proportion to their respective contributions to purchase the home. See, Asante v. Abbaan, 237 N.J. 495 (Law Div. 1989). However, in some scenarios involving the purchase of a home, a court may find that the home was purchased as a joint venture rather than in contemplation of marriage. Therefore, the court may divide the home equally between the couple.

What is a summary of New Jersey law on conditional gifts?

New Jersey law is clear that gifts and/or transfers that are made in the contemplation of marriage are conditional gifts. In the event that the marriage does not occur, then the gift is deemed to have been rescinded. Therefore, any property that is transferred must be returned. Nonetheless, the courts do not take any judicial notice that any gift or transfer made prior to a contemplated marriage was a conditional gift in the contemplation of the anticipated marriage. Instead, the giver has the burden of proof to establish that the transfer was intended to be only a conditional gift.

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New Jersey is an equitable distribution state, meaning that the division of property in a divorce is to be done fairly, not necessarily equally. The court can take into consideration any factor it deems relevant when dividing property, but it must consider certain factors, such as how long the couple was married and the age and health of both spouses, the income or property brought to the marriage by each spouse, the standard of living that was achieved during the marriage, and the extent to which one spouse may have deferred career goals, among others.
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