Traditionally, when a man proposes marriage, he gives his fiancé an engagement ring. This ring is a gift in contemplation of marriage. It is not the same as other jewelry which are gifts that may be given in a dating relationship but does not carry with it the commitment to marry.

If the couple breaks up, the engagement ring must be given back. If other presents were given, these gifts do not have to be returned. The person who gave these gifts relinquished all control over them.

There is no legal basis to get them back.

A person may be engaged to marry and he gives a sum of money to his fiancé as a loan or for a down payment to buy a marital home. Because it is a special relationship, people often do not put anything in writing about what the money is for. Circumstances arise where such money is advanced, but the engagement is off and the house is not purchased or the loan is not repaid.

A loan is not a gift. To protect yourself, a Promissory Note or written acknowledgment that it is a loan should be drafted. If it was for a down payment on a future marital home without anything in writing, it can be hard to prove that it was a gift in contemplation of marriage. The recipient may refuse to give the money back and say it was just to help her out. If the case is litigated, it can be won after circumstantial evidence is produced. There can be a written agreement stating what the money is for to avoid disputes.

Further, during a marriage people might buy jewelry or other “gifts” for one another. These items become part of the marital assets acquired during the marriage, subject to equitable distribution. It doesn’t matter when received, they lose that “gift quality.”

Tanya N. Helfand, Esq. concentrates in Family Law in NY and NJ. We have a free ½ hr. consultation. She is a Certified Matrimonial Attorney and mediator. The firm welcomes your questions and inquiries at [email protected]. Everything is confidential. This article is not legal advice. Please consult an attorney.