Civil Rights Law Section 80-b governs the entitlement to recover an engagement ring and other gifts made in contemplation of marriage. The statute allows a party to commence a legal action for the return of property provided to fiancé where the only consideration for the gift of the property was the intended marriage.
The statute attempts to place the parties in the position they were in prior to their engagement, without rewarding or punishing either party for the fact that the contemplated marriage failed to materialize. Civil Right Law section 80-b is a “no fault” statute. Recovery of the gift is allowed irrespective of which party cancels the impending nuptials. The cause of the break up is irrelevant. Once the engagement is over, the statute allows the return of all gifts made during the engagement period. In Galiardo v Clement, the Appellate Division, First Department stated “Whether the Plaintiff was at fault for the breakup of the engagement is wholly irrelevant to his right to recover possession of an engagement ring that he concededly gave to the Defendant in contemplation of their marriage”.
The statute also creates a presumption that any gift made during an engagement, is considered to be made in contemplation of marriage. The practical effect of the presumption is that unless there is clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, any gifts made during the engagement period, solely in consideration of marriage, are recoverable, if the engagement falls apart. Examples of gifts which are not considered in contemplation of a marriage are gifts provided for a fiancé’s birthday or gifts made as a result of a holiday, such as Christmas or Valentine’s Day.
Regardless of the nature of the property given, whether it is an engagement ring, bracelets, chains, earrings, real property or bank accounts, as long as the gift is made in contemplation of marriage, the gift can be recovered.
With regard to real property placed in joint names or gifted during the engagement period, the statute allows the return of the real property to the transferor made in contemplation of the marriage, with the proviso, that a Court can decide to return to the fiancé who received the interest in real property, payments towards the mortgage, or upkeep of the house, or renovations.
In Clapper v Kohls, the Appellate Division, Third Department determined that the boyfriend who transferred real property into his name and the name of the fiancé was entitled to have his fiancé’s interest in the real property returned to him when the marriage was called off, on the condition that the former prospective bride be released from liability from the mortgage. The court also granted the fiancé a lien for the mortgage payments and property improvements paid by her, to allow her to recover for her loss.
DeFina v. Scott, a 2003, is a New York County Supreme Court case involved the gifting of an engagement ring, as well as a gift of an interest in a condominium held by Mr. Scott. In exchange for a one half interest in the condominium Ms. DeFina agreed to pay for all of the wedding expenses. During the trial it was established that the parties’ planned a wedding in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and a reception thereafter at the United Nations Plaza Hotel. In contemplation of the marriage, Mr. Scott purchased an engagement ring a Tiffany’s. Prior to the wedding it was agreed that Ms. DeFina would pay for all wedding related expenses, and that in exchange Mr. Scott would transfer a one half interest in his condominium apartment.
Unfortunately, the parties’ plans fell apart and arguments ensued over the return of the gifts and the repayment of the wedding expenses. The parties sued and counter sued over wedding preparation expenses, the engagement ring, the right to hold on to engagement gifts received from their friends and relatives and the premarital transfer of a one half interest in real property which was to become the marital home.
At the conclusion of the trial, Mr. Scott requested that he receive the proceeds of the insurance policy which insured the ring (the ring disappeared shortly after the events of September 11, 2001), that the deed granting his former fiancé a one half interest in his Manhattan apartment be rescinded and that Ms. DeFina be charged with the total cost of the wedding expenses, an amount over $16,000.00. Ms. DeFina argued that the deed should be rescinded contingent upon the court granting her a lien against the property for the full amount of her expenditures.
The court granted Mr. Scott’s application to keep the proceeds from the insurance policy representing the value of the engagement ring and his request to rescind the deed, but denied his request to have Ms. DeFina shoulder the expenses of the wedding. Ms. DeFina was granted a lien against the condominium for all the monies she paid for the anticipated wedding.
With regard to bank accounts placed in joint names during an engagement, a New York Civil Court Judge traced the money placed into the parties’ joint account and divided the account according to the parties’ respective contributions. As to the funds the Court was not able to trace, the proceeds were divided equally, as was the accrued interest.
As a caveat, the death of a party to a contemplated marriage does not constitute a failure to marriage. In Pass v Spirt, a Third Department case, the administratrix of an estate sued the former fiancé to try to recover the proceeds of a bank account and insurance policies that were established during the engagement for the benefit of the fiancé. The administratrix was denied the right to recover.
In sum, Civil Rights Law Section 80-b provides recourse for gifts made during the marriage so that a windfall does not fall on one of the parties when an intended marriage is called off, as long as the gifts are made in contemplation of marriage. The protection can be lost if a death occurs during the engagement. The protection is also lost once the parties are married.
Title: Recovery Of Engagement Ring And Other Gifts After A Break-up
Reviewed by Ira Bierman on Feb 24
Summary: Entitlement to recover an engagement ring and other gifts made in contemplation of marriage
Description: The statute also creates a presumption that any gift made during an engagement, is considered to be made in contemplation of marriage. The practical effect of the presumption is that unless there is clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, any gifts made during the engagement period, solely in consideration of marriage, are recoverable, if the engagement falls apart.