In California divorce proceedings, spouses are typically able to keep property that they acquired before the marriage or property that they receive as a gift during the marriage. Nevertheless, property that spouses give to one another does not always fall within this exception for gifts.
What constitutes a gift may be open to interpretation. Here are some questions a court may consider in deciding whether a gift is community property subject to equitable distribution.
Was a gift for one spouse’s sole use?
Something that only the recipient could use was probably meant to be a gift. For example, an article of jewelry that only one spouse used may be a gift. In contrast, a car that both spouses used may not necessarily be a gift.
Was a gift substantial in value?
Even if there was intent that just one spouse use a gift, a court may find that it is community property if it is substantial in value. In determining value, courts consider the worth of the item in the context of a couple’s total wealth and assets.
Was there a written agreement about a gift?
California courts often look for a written acknowledgement that a high-value item is a gift that shall remain with a spouse. However, it is somewhat uncommon for spouses to commemorate intent about a gift in writing.
Ultimately, it may be difficult for parties in divorce proceedings to prove what was a gift. Courts will attempt to consider all relevant information in distinguishing gifts from other community property.