Dividing the Family Silver

Chandralekha Mukerji        Print Edition: March 2013

Your marriage may have failed but don't discard the wedding photographs as bad memories. These can be legal evidence of who owns the jewellery that you are wearing in these photographs.

Unlike property, where ownership is decided on the basis of who has paid for it, jewellery belongs to the person who uses it, that is, the wife. She just has to produce these pictures in the court to prove that the jewellery is part of her 'streedhan'.

Streedhan is assets within a marital household over which only the wife has ownership. This includes everything bought by her or given to her before marriage, at marriage or during the period she is married. Also, it can come from anyone-parents, husband, inlaws, relatives and friends, or husband's relatives and friends.

However, there can be exceptions.

Let's see who will be the rightful owner of jewellery (includes ornaments made of gold, silver, platinum or any other precious metal, stone or any alloy) and valuables such as paintings/artifacts in some common divorce-related situations.

Gifts Received

The definition of gifting is simple. It means transfer of ownership. It does not matter who the gift comes from. It belongs to the person to whom it has been presented. So, if any family jewellery is gifted to the wife, it is streedhan, while a car gifted to the husband at the time of marriage is his.


Usually, oral statements are enough. However, ownership can be proved by showing photographs of the person wearing the ornament,


Partner, The Chambers of Law

In case of jewellery, apart from a few items such as the husband's wedding ring or, say, a gold chain given to him, all items are assumed to have been gifted to the wife.

Between husband and wife, it is obvious that the jewellery belongs to the wife. But controversy arises when the couple stays in a joint family. In such a case, the husband can claim that the jewellery doesn't belong to the wife but to, say, the mother-in-law or the sister-in-law.

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Unlike in immovable property such as a house, one doesn't need a gift deed to prove ownership. "Usually, oral statements are enough to decide who owns the jewellery. However, in cases where one has to prove ownership in court, it can be done by showing photographs of the person wearing the ornament," says Anupam Srivastava, partner, The Chambers of Law, a New Delhibased law firm.

Other valuables such as a painting or, say, a silver set, received as gifts by the couple together are considered joint property. So, these should be divided equally. "Valuables gifted to the couple at the time of marriage belong to both and can be divided according to Section 27 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955*," says Anju Tyagi, Associate Professor (Law), National Law University, New Delhi.

If one person wants to keep a jointly-held gift, he/she can buy out the spouse.

Inherited Ornaments

Jewellery inherited by the wife is hers. Similarly, a valuable inherited by the husband is his. But anything passed on to the wife from the mother-in-law belongs to her.

In cases where some family jewellery has been given to the wife, there are chances that the husband's family may want it back. In such a situation, the parties can enter into an agreement. "In a mutual-consent divorce, there can be any adjustment. The wife can agree to return the item or the husband can pay the wife for returning the jewellery piece," says Srivastava. The same rules apply if the husband has received any valuable from the wife's family.

Items Purchased

Just like jointly-received gifts, valuables bought jointly are treated as shared. However, jewellery purchased by the husband or paid for from a joint bank account, even for investment purposes, is assumed as 'bought for the wife' and a part of 'streedhan'. In that case, the husband would not have legal right on it. Similarly, if the wife has bought any jewellery item, say, a ring, for the husband, it will be treated as his.

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Though the wife would have the legal right to keep most of the jewellery, any arrangement that is suitable to both the parties is acceptable in a mutual-consent divorce.

Tax Treatment

If the woman sells a portion of the 'streedhan' (including any inherited item) after the divorce, the profit earned will invite capital gains tax. The tax will apply on the husband's portion of the gift as well. In case of inherited items, the holding period for calculation of capital gains will also include the period for which the asset was held by the previous owner.

*The print version of this story had erroneously said that the Hindu Marriage Act was passed in 1995. It has been corrected to 1955.

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