An engagement ring is often the most expensive gift a woman will receive and one of the most meaningful. Many couples that divorce disagree over whether or not an engagement ring should be returned to the giver. Most divorce litigants are unaware that New York has laws in place that determine which party will be granted ownership over an engagement or wedding ring.
New York State considers an engagement ring to be a conditional gift. This means that the gift is given based on the promise of a certain event being fulfilled. In this case, that event is marriage. Unless stipulated otherwise, an engagement ring would remain in the receiver’s possession in the event of divorce since the condition in which the gift was given was met.
Exceptions to the Conditional Gift Rule
There are exceptions to the conditional gift rule that governs engagement rings. If the proposal takes place on a major gift-giving holiday like Christmas or Valentine’s Day, then the ring is considered to be a normal gift and becomes the receiver’s personal property. If the engagement ends prematurely, the giver foregoes their right to get the ring back after the breakup.
Who Gets the Ring?
New York State Supreme Court does not recognize fault when relationships end. Because of this, it doesn’t matter which party caused the relationship to end, and the laws governing conditional gifts apply to engagement rings. In most cases of a broken engagement, the receiver would be required to return the engagement ring to the giver because a marriage did not take place. Once the parties are married, if an engagement ring is gifted to a person who is already married to someone else, the jewelry is not considered a conditional gift, since the condition of marriage between the giver and receiver is unable to be met. In this case, the engagement ring would be deemed a regular gift and it is likely the receiver would keep the ring upon separation.
The condition of the engagement ring is met once a couple becomes married. After marriage, the ring becomes the receiver’s personal property and is not subject to equitable distribution during divorce. The receiver will get to keep the engagement ring after the divorce is finalized.
Prenuptial Agreements and Engagement Rings
Family heirlooms make wonderful engagement rings, and ownership of such a sentimental item needs to be protected. Many couples include sections in their prenuptial and postnuptial agreements regarding who gets to keep the heirloom ring should the relationship come to an end. Most agreements state that the ring should be returned to the giver, so it may remain in the giver’s family.
Pre- and postnuptial agreements are also beneficial for non-heirloom engagement rings. These agreements can stipulate how a couple will handle the engagement ring during separation or divorce. Some spouses will opt to sell the jewelry and split the earnings, while others will agree that ownership will be given to a certain party based on why the relationship is ending. For instance, a wife may agree to waive her right to the ring if she commits adultery. Agreements will vary, so it is best to discuss all options thoroughly with your spouse and attorney.
Getting the Ring Back with Court Intervention
In cases of a messy breakup, an angry spouse may refuse to return the engagement ring to their ex. If this happens, the courts may need to intervene. If the parties were never married and had not signed a prenuptial agreement that addresses the engagement ring, then the receiver must return the ring to the giver.
If a spouse is forced to take their engagement ring dispute to court, they can file a claim in Small Claims Court if the value or cost of the ring does not exceed $5,000.00. If the value or cost of the jewelry is greater than $5,000.00, the case will be heard in Civil-Supreme Court. Since the aggrieved parties will need to retain counsel if the action is to be heard in Civil-Supreme Court, litigants are encouraged to determine the ring’s value versus the cost of this legal action before pursuing their case.
Plan Ahead with Brian D. Perskin & Associates, P.C.
Are you engaged, or planning on asking your significant other for their hand in marriage? If so, contact Brian D. Perskin & Associates, P.C. before exchanging vows with your partner. Planning ahead and signing a prenuptial agreement prior to marriage will help protect both parties in the unfortunate event of divorce. For more information, call 718-875-7584 or 646-759-9392 to schedule your free and confidential consultation today.