§ 15-5-16.1 Assignment of property is the statute that governs the treatment of gifts in a divorce proceeding. This is, of course, subject to case law that interprets the statute and other legal principles that may be argued alongside the gift statute.
The statute states in pertinent part,
§ 15-5-16.1 Assignment of property. -
(b) . . . The court shall not assign property or an interest in property which has been transferred to one of the parties by gift from a third party before, during, or after the term of the marriage.
This is an interesting statute to note. . . . among many others . . . yet consider this interesting affect on this Rhode Island statute when supported by case law.
During their marriage John is given a player piano by his friend Celia. The piano works great and has several piano rolls that come with it that play perfectly with various holiday songs. John is not all that technically inclined but his wife Genna becomes familiar with the piano and knows how to carefully change the rolls. The piano is an antique and is in good shape.
John consults with his wife Genna and they decide to put the player piano in the livingroom. John and Genna are married for 15 years and every year the piano became the center piece of each holiday and family gathering. Genna changed the player rolls, decorated the piano for each holiday and family gathering, cleaned the piano and arranged for it to be tuned each year. John paid for the tuning.
John and Genna are getting divorced in Rhode Island. The piano is appraised at $35,000. John claims that the piano was a gift and Genna is not entitled to any portion of it. Genna argues that the piano lost its quality as a "gift" and came within the marital estate when John commingled it in the family gatherings and holidays and allowed Genna to assume the maintenance of it. Once the player piano became such a primary focal point of the family and was maintained by Genna, it became a marital asset and came under the power of the court.
What do you think? Should the commingling with the family and maintenance by Genna bring the player piano within the Rhode Island Family Court's power as being able to distribute the marital estate?
If this statute about gifts exists and case law exists that states that commingling a non-marital item within the marital estate and the Rhode Island Judge's power of equitable distribution, which rule governs? The statute or the case law?
Many Rhode Island Divorce Lawyers and parties within the divorces believe that things such as "gifts" are "simple", but are they really?
Christopher A. Pearsall
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