Engagement and Wedding Rings
Engagement and wedding rings can either be one of your most cherished possessions or an albatross around your finger (and wallet), depending on how well the relationship is going and who's paying. Here's some guidance on what to do with these formerly special pieces of jewelry if you break up.
Can I keep them or do I have to give them back?One of the more unusual questions prospective and current divorce clients ask me from time to time is whether they can keep the engagement rings/wedding bands/wraps/jackets or, conversely, whether they can give back the one(s) they received and get back the one(s) they gave?
The answer, in the vast majority of jurisdictions and cases, is: Just keep it. Or sell it. Or give it away. It's a gift, and you can do with it what you want. No matter when received, gifts do not have to be returned, whether the wedding got called off or you were married for decades. (Depending on where you live, there are exceptions to the premarital guarantee where, for example, the bride-to-be called off the wedding, the groom cheated, etc., but that is not the law in Arizona.) Here, basically anything legally owned before marriage--whether received by gift or not--is considered yours and yours alone. See e.g. Arizona Revised Statutes, Sections 25-211(A)(1) and/or 25-213(A).
Are there occasions when the items may have to be returned to the giver?The parties may agree that the rings or other valuables will be returned to their givers, especially if one or more of the items is a family heirloom. (The same thing applies to items given to and by bridesmaids, groomsmen and/or friends or extended family; I have had cases involving Asian Indian weddings that entailed extensive and expensive gift-giving between the two joining families and subsequent demand of return of these same items by one of the divorcing spouses.)
Since the value of the wife's ring(s) is often much more than that of the husband's, the husband may be ordered to compensate wife a reasonable amount for the value of the item she is losing if she is forced to return it. The court will usually uphold this. It's just that if the parties can't agree, the default is that the rings stay with the recipients.
What if my wedding ring(s) go missing?What if the owner is not wearing a ring or rings at a particular point for whatever reason (job safety, to signal the end of the romantic relationship, pregnancy bloating/weight gain, etc.) and the rings suddenly go "missing"? What if the owner further suspects their soon-to-be-ex has pawned them for cash for the diamonds and precious metals contained therein? (Yes, this actually happens sometimes.) Then, the court may award the bereft party a specific amount of monetary compensation for the value of the item or items.
If need be, the rings can be described with specificity in a divorce decree and confirmed to the recipient as his or her sole and separate personal property post-dissolution. This is why it is always a good idea to keep detailed records of all jewelry and other high-dollar valuables including pictures and all purchase and insurance policy documents, and store these records among important papers in a fireproof safe-deposit box.
There are professional appraisers who are able to examine rings and other pieces of jewelry to determine what their approximate fair-market value is based on their age, materials, quality and condition.
These can be complicated questions, so if you are in doubt, please consult with an experienced Arizona family law attorney. You and your family have too much at stake to go it alone.