One of the first things you may want to do on the breakdown of your big fat Indian marriage is tear up every single picture of you and your spouse. Well, don’t be so quick to do that, as you may need those pictures of you wearing your 24 karat gold jewelry as proof in court that the jewelry actually exists. In my experience as a divorce lawyer and dividing gifts in divorce, determining the whereabouts and value of the bride’s jewelry is almost always one the litigious family law issues in a traditional Indo-Canadian marriage.
Indian weddings are splendid celebrations that are immersed with rituals and traditions and can cost anywhere upwards of $100,000. The expenses include lavish venues, exquisite wedding attire, unlimited alcohol and the tradition of gifting 24 karat gold. Although the practice of dowry, is against the law in India, and not formally practiced by Sikhs and Hindus in the western world, there is quite often an understanding that the bride’s parents will outfit her with a trousseau in lieu of actual payment. Typically this trousseau will be comprised of heavily embroidered formal wear and extravagant 24 karat gold jewelry. In today’s world, the exercise of gifting gold jewelry is no longer one sided. Gold jewelry is equally if not more heavily gifted from the groom’s family to the bride to be.
In most cases, the bride’s parents will gift their daughter with a full 24 karat gold jewelry set and the parents of the groom will gift their daughter –in- law to be with anywhere from one to four gold wedding sets. The cost of these gold sets can be anywhere from $10,000 to 30,000 each.
Based on my experience, I find there are two schools of thought in the Indian community when determining who the gold jewelry belongs to. Parents of the groom often feel that the gold was gifted as a “gift of the marriage” as it is an asset that maintains most of its value and can help the family down the road. The second school of thought is that it belongs to that individual to whom it was gifted and that if the parents meant for it to be a gift of the marriage they should have gifted a gold brick instead of intricate necklaces, earrings and bracelets. The Family Law Act of BC agrees with the latter.
According to the Family Law Act of BC, a gift to a spouse from a third party is excluded property and therefore not included in the determination of the parties assets and debts. The gold jewelry gifted to the bride is her separate property and belongs to her upon the dissolution of the marriage. The gold jewelry gifted to the groom, which is no where near the amount gifted to the bride, is his separate property.
Although the Family Law Act makes it very clear that gifts are excluded property, the problem I often see my female clients encountering is tracking down the whereabouts of this so called jewelry. A common Indian tradition is to hand over your gold jewelry to your mother in law for safe keeping. When dividing gifts in divorce, the gold jewelry is requested back from the mother in law, which can be problematic getting it back. This is likely because the parents of the groom either :1) believe that the gold is a gift of the marriage and therefore belongs to both the parties or that 2) the bride does not get to keep the gold as it was conditional on her being married to their son.
Getting back the jewelry or being providing its cash equivalent can be a very challenging exercise in the practice of family law. The divorce lawyers at Hart Legal have successfully fought for the assets that rightfully and legally belong to our clients. Based on my experience representing Indo Canadian women, my advice to new brides is to get your gold jewelry appraised, take photographs and keep it in your own safety deposit box.
The practice of Dowry in the Iranian culture and Islamic faith is different from dowry practiced in India. For more information on the different types of dowry, please see the blog by Lolita Rudovica dated August 17, 2016.
If you are going through a divorce, don’t hesitate to reach out and contact us. Additionally, read more about Family Law.