Coppola v. Farina

Citation910 A.2d 1011,50 Conn.Sup. 11
Decision Date15 August 2006
Docket NumberNo. FA 05-4005388S.,FA 05-4005388S.
CourtConnecticut Superior Court
PartiesGiuseppina COPPOLA v. Gino FARINA.

Martha H. Deegan, Greenwich, for the plaintiff.

Richard H. Raphael, Westport, for the defendant.


How are cash gifts received from the "bride's side" treated in a contested dissolution trial?

Despite the fact that there are thousands of dissolution opinions issued by Connecticut judges, this question has not been decided by any Connecticut trial court or appellate court. It is an issue of first impression.

After hearing all the evidence, claims of law and claims of fact, the court finds the following facts and legal conclusions.

The plaintiff, Giuseppina Coppola, and the defendant, Gino Farina, were married on May 19, 2002. This is their first marriage. They are in their thirties. Both were employed throughout the marriage. There are no children issue of this marriage. Immediately after the wedding ceremony, their wedding reception was held at the Glen Island Harbor Club overlooking Long Island Sound. One hundred and seventy-two guests attended.

The parties prepared a one page typed guest list containing columns listing table assignments and other information. They received no gifts prior to the wedding. At the wedding reception, they received gifts of cash and checks. Each gift of cash and check was contained in an envelope along with a card. The division of these wedding gifts is in dispute.

The morning after the wedding, the newlyweds opened the envelopes and made a handwritten notation on the one page typed guest list of the amount of money given by each of the listed guests. The parties agree that this list is accurate. They received $19,340 in cash and $6500 in checks. The one page typed guest list with the handwritten notations was marked as exhibit four. Most gifts of cash or checks were in the range of $250 or $300 per couple. There were a few gifts of a lesser sum, one of $1000, one of $600 and two of $500.

The plaintiff wife testifying on direct examination at trial was asked a question by her counsel: "How many of the 172 guests were on the bride's side?" The defendant husband's counsel objected. Thus, the issue now before the court was properly framed. Neither party offered any court decisions to support their claims. The plaintiff's counsel candidly admitted the she was not able to locate any Connecticut case on the subject.

The court took a recess, conducted independent research and gave the parties an opportunity to research the law on the subject. An oral decision was rendered and the trial continued. This memorandum of decision is a memorialization of that oral decision.


Connecticut is an all property state. Krafick v. Krafick, 234 Conn. 783, 792, 663 A.2d 365 (1995). "The distribution of assets in a dissolution action is governed by [General Statutes] § 46b-81 . . . . This approach to property division is commonly referred to as an `all-property' equitable distribution scheme." (Citations omitted.) Krafick v. Krafick, supra, at 792, 663 A.2d 365. Connecticut has no statutory definition of "marital property." Connecticut does not have a statutory concept known as "separate property."

"A gift is the transfer of property without consideration. It requires two things: a delivery of the possession of the property to the donee, and an intent that the title thereto shall pass immediately to him." Guinan's Appeal from Probate, 70 Conn. 342, 347, 39 A. 482 (1898); see also Hartford-Connecticut Trust Co. v. Slater, 114 Conn. 603, 613, 159 A. 578 (1932); City National Bank v. Morrissey, 97 Conn. 480, 483, 117 A. 493 (1922); Main's Appeal, 73 Conn. 638, 640, 48 A. 965 (1901). "To make a valid gift inter vivos, the donor must part with control of the property which is the subject of the gift with an intent that title shall pass immediately and irrevocably to the donee . . . . The burden of proving the essential elements of a valid gift rests upon the party claiming the gift." (Citations omitted.) Kriedel v. Krampitz, 137 Conn. 532, 534, 79 A.2d 181 (1951).

The factors that constitute a complete gift are set forth by our Supreme Court in Hebrew University Assn. v. Nye, 148 Conn. 223, 169 A.2d 641 (1961): "To support a factual conclusion of an executed inter-vivos gift, there would have to be a donative intention and at least a constructive delivery . . . . It is true that the donative intention need not be expressed, nor the delivery made, in any particular form or mode . . . . For a constructive delivery, the donor must do that which, under the circumstances, will in reason be equivalent to an actual delivery. It must be as nearly perfect and complete as the nature of the property and the circumstances will permit." (Citations omitted.) Id., at 232-33, 169 A.2d 641.

After a gift is completed by delivery, it is not necessary that the donee shall retain possession of the property. It may be redelivered to the donor to be held by him as agent or trustee for the donee or for any purpose not inconsistent with ownership on the part of the donee. See Meriden Trust & Safe Deposit Co. v. Miller, 88 Conn. 157, 163, 90 A. 228 (1914); Candee v. Connecticut Savings Bank, 81 Conn. 372, 375, 71 A. 551 (1908); see also Prendergast v. Drew, 103 Conn. 88, 91, 130 A. 75 (1925).

Some cases have examined the issues of notice to the donee of such gift and an acceptance by the donee. The delivery of the gift may be actual or constructive. Meriden Trust & Safe Deposit Co. v. Miller, supra, 88 Conn. at 163, 90 A. 228. "In the absence of a resulting or constructive trust a completed gift is irrevocable." Manyak v. Manyak, 29 Conn.Supp. 1, 2, 268 A.2d 806 (1970). Upon finding the issues of delivery and donor's intent in favor of a gift, the title to the gift in the donee is absolute, all title and right having passed from the donor to the donee. Kerrigan v. Rautigan, 43 Conn. 17, 23 (1875); see also Meriden Trust & Safe Deposit Co. v. Miller, supra, 88 Conn. at 163, 90 A. 228.

In this case, both parties stated that they did not intend to offer testimony of wedding guests as to their donative intent at the time that they gave the cash or checks. The only testimony of donative intent would be furnished by the parties. This court is of the belief that the testimony of the two litigating parties by themselves as to donative intent would be self-serving, conflicting evidence caused by the desire of each party to obtain the distribution of the property. "In domestic litigation, where the donor's intent is proved primarily by testimony of the parties, the desire of each party to obtain the property fosters conflicting evidence presented by self interested witnesses. Rarely will the donor's intent be clearly established. The family court is then reduced to deciding the question on the credibility of the parties unless an additional rule is adopted." Pappas v. Pappas, 300 S.C. 62, 65, 386 S.E.2d 301 (Ct.App.1989).

There was no evidence that the gifts were other than unconditional. The cash and checks were physically handed by the donors to the parties at the wedding reception in front of 170 witnesses, who at that exact moment may or may not have been paying full attention to the delivery of the gift. Both parties made an offer of proof that no donors would be testifying. The cards that accompanied the gifts were not offered in evidence. The handing over of cash by the donor in an envelope containing a gift card when all other guests at the wedding reception did the same and the acceptance by the parties of that envelope containing the cash or check and the gift card, satisfies any issue as to notice and acceptance. The court therefore finds that there is sufficient proof of delivery. The only remaining issue is in regard to the donor's intent. The question of the donor's intent is one of fact. See Meriden Trust & Safe Deposit Co. v. Miller, supra, 88 Conn. at 162, 90 A. 228; Franke v. Franke, 17 Conn.Supp. 136, 141 (1951), aff'd, 140 Conn. 133, 98 A.2d 804 (1953).

The court finds that the cash and checks given by the wedding guests at the wedding reception are not subject to a resulting or constructive trust, were given with notice to the donees, were accepted by the donees, and were given by the donors with full, complete and unconditional delivery by the donors with the intent by the donors to part with ownership, possession and custody of these funds to the parties. The court finds the donor's intent clear that an unconditional gift was made. The only remaining issue is: Was the donor's intent a gift to one party or both parties? Thus, the "bride's side" controversy remains.

General Statutes § 46b-81 (c) provides in relevant part: "In fixing the nature and value of the property, if any, to be assigned, the court, after hearing the witnesses, if any, of each party . . . shall consider the length of the marriage, the causes for the annulment, dissolution of the marriage or legal separation, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties and the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income. The court shall also consider the contribution of each of the parties in the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of their respective estates." In addition, the court must consider the "nonmonetary contribution [made] to the marriage . . . ." O'Neill v. O'Neill, 13 Conn.App. 300, 312, 536 A.2d 978, cert. denied, 207 Conn. 806, 540 A.2d 374 (1988).

Of these factors, the only one applicable to the division of cash wedding gifts is the "contribution of each of the parties in the acquisition . . . in value of their respective estates." General Statutes § 46b-81 (c). It is this provision of § 46b-81 (c) that the plaintiff states as authority that s...

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1 books & journal articles
  • § 6.02 Property Acquired by Gift
    • United States
    • Full Court Press Divorce, Separation and the Distribution of Property Title CHAPTER 6 Types of Property That Frequently Are Designated Separate Property by Statute
    • Invalid date
    ...1281 (1993). [74] See, e.g., Grant v. Grant, 424 A.2d 139 (Me. 1981).[75] See, e.g.: Connecticut: Coppola v. Farina, 50 Conn. Super. 11, 910 A.2d 1011 (2006). Louisiana: Hamilton v. Hamilton, 381 So.2d 517 (La. App. 1979) (shower gifts). New York: Nehorayoff v. Neharayoff, 108 Misc.2d 311, ......

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