Black Friday brings millions of dollars of new gifts into homes across the Unites Sates.  Many of those gifts are purchased for a significant other, fiance, or spouse.  Christmas is also a very popular time of year for engagements.  Ever wondered “who gets the rings in the divorce?”

Engagement Rings and Wedding Rings

who gets the rings in a divorceIn the Case of a Broken Engagement

If a breakup occurs prior to the marriage, the engagement ring is most likely going to be ordered returned to the giver.

An engagement ring is usually considered a conditional gift, with the condition being marriage.  Several cases have argued that acceptance of the proposal met the condition, however most courts rule that the marriage must take place to meet the conditional offering of the gift of the engagement ring.

In many cases, a broken engagement is handled in a no-fault manner where the engagement is treated as a contract.  In contract law, if the contract wasn’t fulfilled, both parties are restored to their previous position.

In rare cases, fault is a consideration in determining why the marriage didn’t occur, and whether that has an impact on whether or not the engagement ring should be returned or stay with its wearer.  Infidelity is a common example of this – if he cheats during the engagement, and his infidelity is the reason that the marriage didn’t occur, she stands a better chance of keeping the ring.

In the Case of a Marriage that Ends in Divorce

It can be argued that jewelry is investment property, but typically if an engagement leads to a marriage, the engagement ring is the personal property of the wearer.  The presence of fault has less relevance for the wedding rings in the end of a marriage than it would in an engagement, as the condition of marriage has been met for the conditional gift.

In the case of a family heirlooms, the family lineage and the nostalgia of the wedding ring usually negate all other arguments in the division of marital property.  Family heirloom wedding rings and engagement rings are nearly always returned to the family of origin.

Who keeps the Instant Pot? Who keeps the Vitamix in a divorce?

Besides the engagement and wedding rings, couples accumulate a number of appliances, entertainment systems, and other smaller household items that can get lost in the shuffle of deciding who keeps the marital home or how to divide retirement accounts.  Gifts given from one spouse to another are frequently the subject of bitter arguments during a divorce.  When an agreement can’t be reached through negotiation or mediation, dividing gift property or its value requires determining if it was a gift of the marriage or a gift to the spouse specifically.  For example, if the couple’s television stops working and one spouse purchases a new television and presents it to the other spouse with the intention of installing it in the family home and using it together, it will likely be considered a gift to the marriage, as would a new television received from a third party.  Jewelry and other items intended for only one of the spouses to wear or use are more likely to be considered separate property.

Most property is viewed by default as joint marital property and parties would have to demonstrate proof of the intent of the gift in order to make their case that they deserve for the property to be considered separate property belonging solely to one party in the divorce.  As with all matters that must be decided through litigation, the Judge has discretion when an agreement can’t be reached amicably between the spouses.

Gifts Given to Third Parties from Either or Both Spouses

Gifts given to other people outside of the marriage can become a hot topic in a divorce.  In community property states, both parties have to approve gifts to 3rd parties.  A man does not have the right to use marital income to purchase a gift for his mistress without his wife’s approval, for example.  Distribution of gifts prior to the demise of a marriage is one method of dispersing marital assets behind one partner’s back.  In equitable property states, one party can give a third party gift without the other’s approval.  Illinois is an equitable distribution state.

If you have questions about this year’s Christmas gifts, or that 3 carat gift you gave last Valentine’s Day, Attorney Zach Townsend and his team at Pro Legal Care LLC are available for a free attorney consultation.