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JOSEPH P. SEMASEK v. THERESA A. SEMASEK (11/27/85)

decided: November 27, 1985.

JOSEPH P. SEMASEK, APPELLEE,
v.
THERESA A. SEMASEK, APPELLANT



No. 174 EASTERN DISTRICT APPEAL DOCKET, 1984, Appeal from July 20, 1984 Judgment of Superior Court at No. 01964, Philadelphia 1982, Affirming Order of Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas Entered June 7, 1982 in Civil Action No. S-1050-1980. 331 Pa. Superior Ct. 1, Nix, C.j., Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Nix, C.j., concurs in the result. McDermott, J., concurs in the result and files a Concurring Opinion. Larsen, J., files a Concurring and Dissenting Opinion.

Author: Hutchinson

[ 509 Pa. Page 285]

OPINION OF THE COURT

In this appeal we examine, inter alia, whether an absolute gift of tangible, personal property from one spouse to another remains within the pool of marital property for purposes of equitable distribution under section 401 of the Divorce Code of 1980, Act of April 2, 1980, P.L. 63, 23 P.S. §§ 101-801, as amended.*fn1 The Court of Common Pleas of Schuylkill County, in arriving at an order of equitable distribution in the course of these divorce proceedings, held that three rings given by appellee husband to appellant wife were a part of the marital property and subject to equitable distribution. A divided Superior Court panel, 331 Pa. Super. 1, 479 A.2d 1047, affirmed. We now reverse that holding and remand the case to Common Pleas with instructions to modify its decree of equitable distribution, after also reexamining or explaining its ruling on the valuation of one parcel of real estate and otherwise revising its calculations in accord with this opinion.

I.

The parties in this case were married in September 1959. They have two children. The couple separated in October 1976 after several years of marital disharmony. On August 5, 1980, the husband instituted an action for divorce under Section 201(d) of the Divorce Code. The wife counterclaimed for equitable distribution of the marital property, alimony, alimony pendente lite, and counsel fees. The case was referred to a Master. He recommended a divorce and then held separate hearings on the economic issues. The court considered his report and granted the divorce on May 4, 1981. However, a decision on the other matters did not occur until June 7, 1982, when Common Pleas entered various orders dealing with the financial aspects of this divorce. These latter orders are the subject of this appeal. In them, Common Pleas ordered that the marital property

[ 509 Pa. Page 286]

    be split, with 56% awarded to the husband and 44% to the wife. The court also ordered the husband to pay the wife rehabilitative alimony for a future period of three years for the specific purpose of covering educational expenses, not to exceed $2,750 per year. The court refused to award alimony pendente lite, but did award appellant wife counsel fees and costs of $3,910.00. On appeal, Superior Court affirmed. We granted the wife's petition for allocatur.

II.

As appellant, the wife first contends that Common Pleas abused its discretion when it treated three diamond rings given her by the husband as marital property. That court held § 401(e)(3) of the Divorce Code does not exclude these gifts from marital property. This section excepts property received by a party by "gift, bequest, devise or descent" from the concept of marital property except for its increase in value during the marriage.

The section nowhere expressly says that gifts between spouses nevertheless remain marital property, nor can we find any implication that the Legislature intended to specially treat inter-spousal gifts as marital property. Words must be given their plain meaning, unless doing so would create an ambiguity, and we must interpret statutes in accordance with the legislative intent. 1 Pa.C.S. § 1921.

Here, the language itself creates no ambiguity. The term "gift" has a definite meaning. Our law requires only donative intent, delivery and acceptance. Post's Estate v. Commonwealth Bank & Trust Co., 500 Pa. 420, 456 A.2d 1360 (1983); In re Sipe's Estate, 492 Pa. 125, 422 A.2d 826 (1980). Nothing in the statutory definition excludes gifts between spouses, nor does their special nature require exclusion. The words "bequest, devise or descent" following the term "gift" in the phrase modifying and limiting this excluded property do not show us an intent to limit this exclusion to property received from a third person. They would do so only if we construed "gift" as a generic term

[ 509 Pa. Page 287]

    further limited by the specific kinds of gifts which follow it, under the maxim inclusio unius est exclusio alterius. However, construction by that maxim is inconsistent with other sections of the Divorce Code. For example, § 401(e)(2) allows spouses to exclude specific properties from the pool of marital property by agreement. § 401(e)(3). A contrary interpretation including inter-spousal gifts as marital property would deprive § 401(e)(2) of much of its meaning.

In this case, the record itself indicates that the rings were given absolutely to the wife as her separate property. Diamond rings are not for joint use. They are solely for the use of the recipient. This is evidenced by the husband's statement that he bought the rings because he never gave the wife an engagement ring. Reproduced Record ("R.R.") at 57a. The Divorce Code states simply that gifts are not marital property. We see no reason to treat gifts ...


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