Post-Christmas breakup: Who keeps the gifts?

Relationships, Money

You and your significant other went all out on Christmas gifts. But now the relationship is over, and you want those expensive presents back. Do you have a legal leg to stand on, or is a gift a gift forever?

From a legal perspective, it all comes down to intent

“The general rule – although state law will vary to some degree – is that gifts of tangible personal property become owned by the recipient,” says John C. Hoelle, co-founding attorney mediator and couples mediator of Conscious Family Law & Mediation.

“The determining legal factor in a gift is the ‘intent’ of the giver,” says attorney Lawrence Roger Holzman, founder of the Holzman Law Firm. “If this were to go to court – either civil or criminal – the first question would be whether you have the superior right to the property.” For example, it would be difficult for a boyfriend to claim that the Christian Louboutins he gave to his girlfriend were merely on loan.

Engagement rings are the exception

“A gift is a gift and once given and accepted by the recipient is legally theirs,” says Virginia divorce mediator Toni Coleman, unless it a “conditional” gift, such as an engagement ring.

“If the engagement is called off, the ring should be given back,” she says. “If the recipient refuses, there can be legal grounds for getting it returned.” The giver would have to show that the ring was given as part of an understanding or agreement that some future action or event (i.e., a wedding) would take place.

From a moral perspective

“When a relationship is over, it’s over – and the gifts are for keeps,” says April Davis, founder of luxury matching site Luma. “Unless the gift was a family heirloom, or a gift that the couple paid for together, gifts should not be returned.”

Is it worth fighting over?

Intimacy expert Allana Pratt emerged from a 13-year, $250,000 custody battle with a fresh perspective. “Give yourself a gift and let it go,” she advises. “It was given out of love. The love for [the recipient] may be over, but maintain love for yourself by letting go of the past, wishing them well, blessing their journey, and disconnecting from the toxic poison. Let go.”