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The Etiquette for Wedding Gifts After a Divorce

Updated March 23, 2017

There are many things that you must deal with during divorce proceedings, and the return or division of wedding gifts may not be high on your list of priorities. However, when little time has passed between the wedding and divorce, it is necessary to decide what to do with the wedding gifts you received. Whom the gifts came from and their value are particular considerations that will determine what happens to the gifts.

Gifts

According to Merriam-Webster, a gift is "something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation." Etiquette decrees that offering to return gifts is honourable and appropriate under certain circumstances, such as a short lived marriage. However, etiquette is not definitive, and your own moral standards may not lead you to think returning the gifts is necessary.

Return

If the marriage has been short in length, for example, less than one year, it would be appropriate etiquette to offer the gifts back to the people who gave them. A brief but sincere note stating that the marriage has ended and that you understand that the giver may want their gift returned will suffice. The giver can then contact you to arrange a return if she wants to. Chances are that the gift givers will feel sad about the breakdown of the marriage and will not want the gifts back. In which case, you can do with them what you please.

Division

If your marriage has lasted longer than one year, it would be acceptable to divide the gifts between you and your spouse. It would be reasonable to expect that the gifts given to you by your family and friends stay with you and that gifts given by your spouse's family and friends go to him. Hopefully, you will be on good enough terms to determine who should keep gifts given by mutual friends. If there is a lot of gifts, divide them as equally as possible in terms of value and their usefulness to you both.

Legality

If your divorce is acrimonious and there is no chance of reasonably agreeing on distribution of the gifts, how you divide them will legally depend on where you live. Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin are community property states. This means that all assets, including gifts, are generally divided equally. In all other states, which are equitable distribution states, assets are divided in an equitable manner, considering such factors as the length of the marriage, child custody and income of each spouse.

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About the Author

Helen Harvey began her writing career in 1990 and has worked in journalism, writing, copy-editing and as a consultant. She has worked for world-class news sources including Reuters and the "Daily Express." She holds a Master of Arts in mass media communications from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.