My father demands that I return all his presents to him before moving: what should I do?
Dear Newsweek, I’m about to leave my parents’ house. A relative, the main breadwinner, says that everything paid for with his money, including gifts, belongs to him. The other parent, who also works, is afraid of this parent but says gifts and other things people buy for others belong to the recipients. They share a bank account.
I bought things for myself, with my own money and gift cards, and most of what I call my stuff was bought by my parents, with my parents’ money, for me. I don’t want them calling the police for theft when I leave.
How should I handle my parents’ differences of opinion regarding property, especially regarding what I can pack without legal issues?
“What should I do?” from Newsweek offers expert advice to readers. If you have a personal dilemma, let us know via firstname.lastname@example.org. We can ask experts for advice on relationships, family, friends, money and work and your story could be featured on WSID at Newsweek.
Moving is a good decision
Ruth E. Freeman is founder and president of Peace at Home Parenting Solutions, which offers classes to encourage better communication. She is also a psychotherapist who has worked with families in crisis to provide parenting education in a variety of situations.
This sad scenario reveals quite clearly the values of the father: money rather than people. However, the most worrying issue is fear in this family. The daughter reports that mom is afraid of dad, and the daughter herself is afraid that he will send the police after her. The good news is that the girl is coming out of the house!
First of all, let us specify that the gifts belong to the recipients. Second, what is dad going to do with his daughter’s stuff? How are they useful to him? It seems like he just wants to stay in control, and claiming these things is one way to do that. But all that aside, I hope the daughter won’t be intimidated by Dad and recognize that he would have a hard time convincing the police that his daughter’s business is indeed his.
Second, if by some remote chance Dad could actually engage the police in this ridiculous business, the girl can just give back whatever Dad demands. Hopefully, she’ll just take whatever she thinks is hers and let daddy deal with it. It would probably be a good idea to move out when he’s not home and have friends around to help out. When a young adult in the family is about to get started, we at Peace At Home Parenting encourage parents to be supportive and excited about the future and to do what they can to inspire courage and confidence in their children. Dad seriously failed in this approach, but kudos to his daughter for making the move anyway!
Gifts are the property of the recipient
Harriet Newman Cohen is a New York-based family law attorney. She is a founding partner of Cohen Stine Kapoor LLP, providing representation in contested trials and settlements. She is a negotiator and litigator and handles all aspects of matrimonial and family law.
Gifts are the property of the recipient. A “gift” is anything your parents or someone else has given you, whether it’s for a birthday, a holiday, or just to treat yourself. If something was meant for you, given to you, and accepted by you, it is a gift, and it is yours, not your parents. The gift must have been given to you without any conditions. Otherwise, it’s not a “gift”, it’s a “contract”. As for your personal effects and other property, such as books, CDs, electronics, furniture, furnishings, which were not gifts, your receipts will be useful to prove that the property belongs to you.
Parents have an obligation to support their children until age 18 in most states, age 19 in four states, and age 21 in New York and three others. Beyond the age of majority, however, parents have no legal obligation to support their children. Anything they paid after you reached the age of majority might belong to them, not you, unless they gifted it to you.
The majority of young adults today live with their parents, the highest number since the Depression. They can help pay for rent, food, laundry, etc. What your parents paid for after you passed the age of majority may not be yours, unless it was a gift. Looks like your mom has no authority over what she’d like to give you.
Unless your parents split up, it’s hard to know what your mother could legally give you without incurring your father’s wrath. If they separate in the future, however, the laws of the state where they live can decide who owns what. It’s best to have a discussion with your parents before you move, if practical, about what you can take with you and what you might owe them to avoid police activity.