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I'm writing to ask a question about gifting my fiancé a down payment for the home we currently live in and bought. So when I gave her 14,000 for the down payment of our home we were engaged. At this time two weeks ago she told me she doesn't love me. And ended our 6 year relationship.

I gifted her the money under the assumption that we would be eventually married. This is now not happening. My question is since I invested in what I thought was our home together is now only hers since I wasn't on the loan because her credit was better than mine. So am I entitled to get anyone my money back?

As I did gift it to her, although under the assumption it's our house not just hers. She says she doesn't owe me anything and won't give me anything for my investment to what I thought was ours now just hers. Any help or insight would greatly be appreciated.

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    Jurisdiction will make a big difference here, in particular whether there are common-law statutes that act similarly to marriage property rules in your state / country. Where is this? – Grade 'Eh' Bacon 2 days ago
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    In terms of ownership, the name on the loan is much less important than the name(s) on the title deed. That's what you need to find out, and you can probably do a property records search through the county web site. – brhans 2 days ago
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    I think you are mixing gift with loan. A gift is something given with no expectations of getting it back. End of story. You cannot retroactively declare it a loan. – Aganju 2 days ago
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    Who is the owner of the property? You, her, or both? If that's a co-property, you can get some money back – usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ 2 days ago
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    This question belongs on Law Stack Exchange. – Clockwork yesterday

11 Answers 11

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In common-law jurisdictions (e.g. the United States but not Louisiana) there is the notion of a “gift in contemplation of marriage” (Google that phrase). The most common case for this is an engagement ring; in many jurisdictions it has to be returned. But it applies to other kinds of gifts, too. This varies from place to place, and these days it’s often defined by statute rather then common law. Talk to a lawyer.

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    A question on our Law site might be helpful. – DJClayworth yesterday
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IANAL, of course, but:

It really depends on the jurisdiction. Since you did not mention the country, I will assume Slovakia. You can indeed require to return the gift, but basically the only option is to 1) prove you gave the money to her in the first place (a notarized receipt is a foolproof way, anything else is less perfect) and 2) assert and prove she acted against "good morals", aka "propriety" (dobré mravy), and/or 3) prove she just pretended to be with you in order to deprive you of the money (AKA it was a fraud from the beginning; this might be almost impossible to prove).

Now, the concept of "dobré mravy" is rather nebulous and ill-defined, just breaking a relationship is certainly not a breach. For example, if you were an elderly parent giving your house to your child and he/she/they would kick you out to live on the street, you would have a reasonably good chance to revert the title on the house. I guess if the breakup was violent and she was was sentenced for something she did to you (e.g. causing bodily harm or something) and said (in front of witnesses) that she never intended to live with you and you were such a fool to give her the money, then you might have a chance. In any case, not without a lengthy and tedious lawsuit.

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    In Germany, there would be a possibility of “grave ingratitude”. Like if the ex-girlfriend tried to murder you to get the rest of your money. “Grave” really meaning “grave”. Falling out of love wouldn’t be “grave”. On the other hand, fraud would most everywhere entitle you to your money back, but if she wanted to live with you a year ago and changes her mind, that’s not fraud. – gnasher729 2 days ago
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    "Since you did not mention the country, I will assume Slovakia." I laughed at this. – Gregory Currie yesterday
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    @GregoryCurrie I think it's an excellent way to respond on an international site that has an awful lot of users from the US who seem never to have considered the fact that laws, tax regimes etc vary around the world! – Vicky yesterday
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    @GregoryCurrie Its actually refreshing to see someone not immediately jumping to the conclusion that the world is only the US. – Polygnome yesterday
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    "Consider a spherical cow ..." "Where?" "Well, Slovakia ..." – davidbak yesterday
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It seems you are unclear on the definition of "gifting" if you are expecting to be entitled to get it back when things go sour. That's not how gifts work. Did she have any reason to believe the gift had strings attached? I'm assuming not because even in your question you used the word "gift" multiple times. What she spent the money on is irrelevant.

Unless you had some kind of contract with her that the gift was contingent on you getting married, you are out of luck.

BTW: The home belongs to the person on the title, not the loan. it is probably the same person, but it is an important distinction.

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    I don't think he intended it to be a gift actually. Sure, he keeps saying gift, but as you point out he seems to be unclear on the definition of that word. Also, he later calls it an investment. It seems to me like he intended to buy the house together with her, so he intended for him to own part of the house. Of course, he made a serious mistake when he allowed her to put only her name on the title for a house bought partially with his money. He should get a lawyer. If there's any chance of getting the money back, it's not going to come from free advice on the Internet. – FrederikVds yesterday
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    This is plainly wrong in, as the other answer shows, many jurisdictions. – DonQuiKong yesterday
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    Even for actual gifts this isn't as clear-cut as you claim. Some jurisdictions have the notion of “gross ingratitude” (which can include breaking off an engagement, as far as I know) due to which gifts can be demanded back. – Konrad Rudolph yesterday
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    -1. This answer is very wrong. The law on this topic is way more nuanced, complex, and jurisdiction dependent than this answer suggests. It is not as straightforward as "unless you had some kind of contract". Anyone intending to act on the advice in this answer should seek the help of a lawyer if the sums involved are large. Also misleading: "The home belongs to the person on the title". If it were that simple, nobody would go to court over divorce settlements. Divorcees would simply keep whatever assets were in their name and move on. – JBentley yesterday
  • See my answer here for some examples drawn from British case law which counter the idea that if it's in your name, it's yours. Abbot v Abbot [2007] UKPC 53, [2008] 1 FLR 1451 is particularly relevant here. – JBentley yesterday
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Although you call it a gift, there is a useful.concept on contract law, about implied terms and understandings.

In many juridlsdictions, a judge will ask themself a question something like this:

You gave her 14,000. Doesn't that raise questions of what understandings existed? Just because it was called a gift, doesn't exclude that there may have been contextual mutual understandings. After all, you would not give a stranger that money. You gave it to her, and you did so because you were engaged, sharing that house, whose title was in her name, and because you were in a relationship where there was an understanding that you would continue to live together indefinitely in it, as a married couple after some time.

So if those understandings no longer exist, then a judge may rule

  • in some jurisdictions that a gift is a gift,
  • but in other places, may rule that the fundamental understanding behind the gift, that was its purpose (to give you as well as her a home, as a shared life) no longer exists, so the money must be treated equitably, not just left with her,
  • or else, that you may have rights in the property.
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There is no requirement for your girlfriend (or anyone else) to return any money that is given to them as a gift. However, depending on where you live you could be in what is considered a de facto relationship and both your assets could fall under divorce law. I'd advise you to talk to a lawyer or at least check out law.stackexchange.com.

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    +1, but it's important to mention that claiming the OP was in a de facto relationship might put his other assets acquired in the last 6 years on stake, not just the gifted 14,000. – Dmitry Grigoryev 2 days ago
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    Note that Law SE very explicitly does not offer any personal advice. That site is there purely to discuss theoretical and hypothetical questions about law. – TooTea 2 days ago
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    @TooTea: Sure, but Law.SE balances "hypothetical" and "far-fetched". The underlying question here is definitely not far-fetched, as proven by the real example. – MSalters yesterday
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Whatever expectations and assumptions you made when you gave her the money are irrelevant if you didn't put them into a contract. Clearly there wasn't a written contract, but perhaps there was an oral contract with your girlfriend? That's something you may want to pursue with a lawyer, but that may end up costing you more than the 14,000 in legal fees. You could win but only get some percentage back, like 50%. It's probably not worth it.

Consider that if you had gotten married, you might have paid more than 14,000 for a ring and a wedding. Maybe you got a bargain in learning an expensive lesson.

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    In many countries, legal fees are paid by the loser. I don't know about the asker's jurisdiction. – Jack Aidley yesterday
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    A lesson in relationships, a lesson in money dealings, and a lesson in the intersection of these two. Three for the price of one! – Peter - Reinstate Monica yesterday
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The devil is in the details here. Specifically:

  1. Are you recognized as a common law partnership or something similar?
  2. Can you prove that you gifted her this money?
  3. Can you prove that the gift was conditional on getting married?

A married couple in this situation can argue for some fair division of common property. Sometimes it is based on who put in how much, sometimes it is based on who is seen as more "deserving", sometimes it is based on other things. It all depends on what divorce courts are like in your location. However if you are married you are potentially automatically entitled to some share of the common property. If you are not married and "just girlfriend/boyfriend" the state doesn't care and you have no leg to stand on.

The catch is that you don't necessarily need to do a full official marriage to be treated as a married couple in this respect. In many jurisdictions, people doing things like living together, buying a house together and presenting themselves to people as a couple are considered common law married which means they get to "enjoy" similar proceeding to a married couple getting divorced (such as asking for part of the property). The law is less strict for common law marriage than a full marriage, but it is a very similar concept.

If you don't qualify as common law marriage, your next option is to argue that the gift constitutes a contract for marriage as others pointed out. It's not enough that you "assumed you would get married" - you have to show that she was aware and accepted this as part of the engagement. This is easy with engagement rings because everybody knows that an engagement ring is given with the assumption of marriage, not unconditionally. You don't have to do much to convince the court of the condition. Gifting money for a house is not universally considered part of a normal engagement, so if you go to court on this basis the girlfriend can argue that you gifted the money with no strings attached or that you decided to pay the downpayment so that you could live in the house for a while instead of renting your own place and now you've gotten your money's worth, etc. It will be on you to prove otherwise.

But keep in mind this all hinges on your ability to prove the facts of the case. If the agreement was verbal between you two, she can say it didn't happen and then it's your word against hers. Or if you just handed her a stack of dollar bills, she can deny that the gifting happened at all. So if you don't have documentation, and you don't fall under common law marriage, I think your chances are slim.

Either way, the only way to be sure is to speak with a lawyer who deals with marital law. They will give you the final answer of whether you can sue, on what grounds and what your chances are. Alternatively, you can appeal to your girlfriend's sense of fairness and honor and ask her to voluntarily return the money.

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Talk to a family court lawyer.

In Australia (and certain other jurisdictions around the world), there is a concept of "de facto relationships" that are considered legally equivalent to marriage; in other jurisdictions, they might be named other things like "common law marriages". These laws might require a couple in a sexual relationship to cohabitate for a certain length of time, have children together, the mutual ownership of property, etc.

When such a relationship is legally recognized, upon the termination of such a relationship, it is usually possible for one partner to take the other partner to court regarding issues like the division of property and the custody of children, as they would during the divorce of an officially-recognized marriage.

Whether this would get you back the money you gave her for the house down payment depends on a number of factors, and the local laws governing divorces. It might be worth your while to talk to a lawyer that specializes in this area of law in your jurisdiction.

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Were the money a gift to her?

If so, then I'm sorry, you passed all the rights on her.

If you gave her the money like "Here are the money for the house so we can have it without any debts" it is a completely different story. If you can prove that then you should be owning appropriate part of the house (how much you (sigular) did pay divided by how much you (plural) did pay).

Talking to the lawyer is the way to go. And take all the papers you can.

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I hope you got a receipt for that

You may have a shot at getting the money back depending on how much documentation you had for the down-payment. I'm guessing she didn't write you a receipt. Hopefully you at least used a cashier's check or some other type of transfer where both your names will appear. Prepare to spend either a good amount of money on a lawyer, or a good amount of time preparing your case for small claims court if it's available.

I'm not a lawyer, but you may have luck hiring one to send your ex official correspondence. Just receiving a legal nastygram can be enough to make people change their tune sometimes.

You could also check on the limit for small claims court if your country has one. 14k is likely near or over the limit, but might be worth checking. Again, use this to show your ex you're willing to fight and see if she gives the money back to avoid the hassle.

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As has been said before, jurisdiction makes a big difference, but one major aspect of this situation is that the house became your primary residence upon purchase. That coupled with the length of your relationship should give you rights not only over the down payment, but of the entire property itself. Consult with a Lawyer specializing in family law, but you may have an ownership stake requiring her to either buy you out or sell the property and divide any resulting profits.

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