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A lawyer’s former fiancée is entitled to reimbursement for about $16,000 she spent in preparation for the wedding that was canceled, a state judge has ruled. Attorney Stephen Scott and Virginia DeFina had planned to exchange vows in 2001 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, to be followed by a reception at the United Nations Plaza Hotel. He gave her an expensive engagement ring from Tiffany & Co. They agreed she would pay the wedding-related expenses, and he would transfer to her one-half ownership of his condominium that was to be the marital residence. The ring was presented on Valentine’s Day, and Scott, whose two previous marriages ended in divorce, transferred a half-interest in the condominium to DeFina, a nurse practitioner, two weeks later by quitclaim deed. The engagement, however, was ended the following month. DeFina then sued Scott in Manhattan Supreme Court seeking reimbursement for the wedding expenses on the basis that it was a simple contract between the parties: Scott gave her a half-interest in his condominium and her outlays were her contribution to the marriage. Scott argued that in addition to securing the value of the engagement ring, he should be restored to full ownership of his unit, and DeFina should be solely responsible for the $16,000 she spent preparing for the wedding. The engagement ring disappeared from DeFina’s Lower Manhattan apartment after the Sept. 11 collapse of the World Trade Center, and Scott has been paid for its loss by his insurance company. He argued that he is entitled to keep the insurance proceeds. Acting Justice Diane A. Lebedeff, ruling Feb. 14 in DeFina v. Scott, 107608/01, said that New York law makes clear that the male retains the right to the ring at the termination of the engagement. But the judge rejected Scott’s argument on the wedding expenses, and agreed with DeFina that she was entitled to reimbursement based on contract principles. A New York law, Civil Rights Law � 80-a, has barred actions for breach of a contract to marry since 1935, but an exception to the statute, Civil Rights Law �80-b, permits a contributor to a pre-marital gift to a lien against the gift to the extent of her contribution, Justice Lebedeff noted. The trial record established that “the parties themselves were satisfied that DeFina’s outlay on wedding preparation expenses were sufficient ‘contribution’ for transfer of one-half of the ownership interest in the condominium,” the judge said. “Under the law, the court recognizes such expenditures as a lien.” Subject to a lien for $15,686 (the cost of the marital arrangements), Scott shall be restored to sole title to the apartment, the judge said. She said there was no reason to treat a contract regarding wedding expenses differently from any other contract. Matrimonial law in New York recognizes prenuptial and antenuptial agreements, and “even domestic partners may call upon a court to resolve and regulate property rights acquired during their relationship,” the judge said. “When both married and unmarried couples may call upon courts for enforcement of contracts, the agreements of formerly betrothed couples surely should be accorded the same honor,” Justice Lebedeff continued. ENGAGEMENT GIFTS Another dispute by the parties about marriage gifts given by third parties was also treated under contract principles, the judge said. A post-engagement agreement regarding the division of engagement gifts was not one made in contemplation of matrimony and was not subject to the provisions of the Civil Rights Law, she said. DeFina was entitled to a one-half interest in five gifts that had not been returned with a total estimated value of $500, thus $250, the judge said. Scott’s claims for abuse of process, slander and defamation were dismissed. DeFina’s allegation of intentional infliction of emotional distress was similarly rejected by the court. DeFina appeared pro se in the action. Scott was represented by Lori Cohen of New York’s Cohen & Funk.

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