Hanover v. Hanover, 775 S.W.2d 612 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1989).

Gifts to Wife During Marriage Are Her Separate Property

In this 1989 case, after 31 years of marriage, the husband was granted a divorce on the grounds of cruel and inhuman treatment.  Among other issues, the wife argued that many pieces of personal property were her individual property, and that the trial court had improperly considered them to be part of the marital estate.

She offered into evidence a list of the items claimed to be her individual property.  The sources of all of these items were identified.  Some had been gifts from the husband, with a description such as “Mother’s Day gift” from the husband.  Others were gifts to her from third parties, with a description such as “gift from Aunt Dolly for birthday.”

The husband admitted to making such gifts, and agreed, in the case of jewelry, that the gift was designed for the wife.  The appeals court noted that the definition of separate property included gifts, and that there was nothing in the statute to exclude interspousal gifts from that definition.  It also noted that three elements are necessary to make a gift, namely, intention to make a gift, delivery, and acceptance.  In this case, there was no dispute as to delivery and acceptance, but the husband argued that the requisite intent was missing.

The appeals court agreed with the wife that the evidence preponderated in favor of a finding that the husband intended to make a gift.  The husband argued that the couple had lived beyond their means, and that the funds for the purchases of these gifts came from loans from his business, which had been discussed extensively earlier in the opinion.  But the court held this factor to be irrelevant:  “Simply because the day of reckoning for the extravagance is at hand, we will not infer that Mr. Hanover did not intend to make a gift of all the items attributed to him.” Id. at 617.  For that reason, it held that the items were indeed the wife’s separate property.

After reviewing the other issues in the case, the Court of Appeals modified the ruling of the trial court, awarding these separate items to the wife.

This post is part of a series, Appreciation of Separate Property: The Forensic Accountant’s Full Employment Act.

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