A Gift with Strings Attached: How Courts Address Gifts between Spouses in Divorce

A Gift with Strings Attached: How Courts Address Gifts between Spouses in Divorce

Frances Bean Cobain, daughter of late Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain and singer Courtney Love, has recently been in the news for her divorce from singer Isaiah Silva.  The divorce was very contentious and proceedings were pending for several years.  The parties recently reach a property settlement agreement.  In the agreement, Silva was awarded the 1959 Martin D-18E guitar that Kurt Cobain played during Nirvana’s iconic MTV Unplugged session in 1993.  Silva claimed that the guitar was a gift from Frances prior to the parties’ marriage.  Frances denied ever giving the guitar to Silva.  Love has also been very outspoken that the guitar was a family heirloom that Frances could not give away.  The guitar is said to be worth several million dollars and was one of only a few hundred of its kind ever made.

How does something like this happen in a divorce?  The Pennsylvania Divorce Code provides for mechanisms to divide a couple’s marital and separate property through equitable distribution.  The Code also spells out the definition of marital property.  Specifically related to gifts, 23 Pa. C.S. 3501(a)(3) states that marital property does not include “Property acquired by gift, except between spouses.”  Therefore, gifts between spouses in Pennsylvania are considered marital property and subject to equitable distribution by the court if the matter proceeds to litigation.  Otherwise, the parties can mutually agree, as did Frances and Silva, that certain gifts belong to one party or the other.

But the saga of the guitar does not end here.  Last week a law suit was filed by Silva alleging that Love’s business manager Sam Lutfi, and two other men, kidnapped, assaulted and threaten him in order to reacquire the guitar.  There is no information on whether any criminal charges have or will be filed related to this incident.

If you or someone you know is considering divorce and would like information on how to address gifts between spouses, click or call 610-892-3877.

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About the author

About Melissa Towsey

Melissa graduated from the University of Virginia in 2002 with a double major in Sociology and Foreign Affairs. After working for several years as a paralegal in Washington, D.C., she attended The University of Villanova School of Law and graduated in 2010. During law school, Melissa was involved in several public interest organizations and published an article in Villanova’s Environmental Law Journal, “Something Stinks: The Need for Environmental Regulation of Puppy Mills” 21 Vill. Envtl. L.J. 159 (2010) http://www.animallaw.info/articles/arus21villenvtllj159.htm. After law school, Melissa clerked for the Honorable Thomas G. Parisi, Administrative Judge of the Criminal Division in the Court of Common Pleas, Berks County. Melissa is the supervising attorney of the firm’s Appellate Unit. The Appellate Unit handles all aspects of the appellate process for family law cases as well as advanced research within the firm. Melissa and her husband, Paul, reside in Montgomery County with their two cats Wembley and Gobo. In her spare time, she enjoys audiobooks, barbeques, and watching action movies.