Who Gets to Keep the Engagement Ring?

By Michael DiFalco

Who gets to keep the engagement ring after a couple decides to divorce? You would think there would be a simple answer to this question because it was a gift from one person to another. So the gift receiver should keep the ring, right? Not so fast.

As with many issues related to the law, this can get complicated. The question is important not just because of the sentimental value of the ring but also because of its economic value.

Let’s face it — some engagement rings are worth a lot of money and engagement rings and other wedding jewelry have an important symbolic value for most couples.

All marital property is subject to equitable distribution and will be split 50-50 between the divorcing spouses unless there is a prenuptial or post-nuptial agreement directing otherwise.

But isn’t an engagement ring a gift given to one person before the marriage? So how can it be considered marital property?

New York state considers an engagement ring a “conditional gift.” The ownership of the ring is conditioned on whether a marriage occurs. This means that the person who receives the ring has the right of possession only once the marriage has happened. When the two people are married, the “conditional gift” becomes the property of the recipient spouse. It does not become marital property.

Generally, an engagement ring should be considered “separate property” of the receiver of the engagement ring since it was received as a conditional gift by one party prior to the marriage.

Under the law of equitable distribution, property that is considered separate property owned solely by one spouse will not be subject to equitable distribution and will not be split 50-50 between the spouses. 

But what if the engagement ring has been enhanced, modified, reset, or replaced? 

If the ring was replaced during the marriage, then that item of jewelry would probably be considered marital. If the ring has been reset and several diamonds added to the setting as an anniversary gift, for example, then the increase in value might be marital. 

What if the ring is a family heirloom? More often than not, if the ring came from the husband’s great-grandmother or some other family member, the settlement will provide for the ring to be returned to the husband’s family. 

Sometimes the ring goes to the parties’ children. As a compromise, we have resolved cases where the engagement ring, particularly where it has been passed down through a couple of generations, is not kept by either party but held for the future generation.

Who Gets the Ring in a Broken Engagement?

Although fairly rare, if the recipient of the engagement ring breaks off the engagement without justification, the giver of the ring may have the ability to bring a lawsuit to recover the ring or its value. Since the condition of marriage has not occurred, the gift remains “conditional” and is not yet the property of the recipient.

A New York Divorce Lawyer Can Help with Difficult Questions

Divorces can be very difficult to go through, both emotionally and financially. If you have questions about divorce, contact the Nassau County family law attorneys at Aiello & DiFalco, LLP. 

We strive to treat our clients with compassion, respect, and honesty. When you need a strong legal team fighting for your rights, we’ll be here for you!

About the Author
I am a partner at Aiello & DiFalco LLP, and my priority for my clients is to guide them through an arduous court case to provide them with the opportunity to write the next chapter in their life. I tailor my approach to each client’s priorities and positions, and to the extent that matters can be predicted, I will always provide a realistic perspective of how the law could be applied to the particular facts and circumstances of a case. Since I thrive on helping people and solving problems, I bring an optimistic and positive approach to practicing in a very difficult area of law. With more than a decade of experience handling hundreds of cases, I have the ability to get results on the issues my clients view as priorities. When cases or certain issues cannot be settled, I have a solid record of success at trials, hearings, and on appeals. Feel free to contact me for a free initial consultation, I am always available to help.