LEGAL GUIDE
Written by Avvo Staff | May 30, 2014

How are wedding rings treated in divorce?

Because many wedding rings and engagement rings cost thousands of dollars, spouses are more and more often asking for them back after the marriage ends. Therefore, during a divorce the engagement or wedding ring can become one more piece of property that is fought over during the settlement.

To know whether or not you can keep your ring or request it back from your spouse, it is important to examine the situations when a spouse can and cannot keep the ring, proper ring etiquette, and common rulings in most states.

Situations in which the spouse does not keep the ring

The most common way one spouse will get the engagement ring back is if the wedding is called off during the engagement. For example, in California, if one party does not follow through with the wedding, that party must give back the ring. The ring is considered by the court to be a conditional gift, with the condition being marrying the spouse-to-be.

But if one of the parties cheated on the other during the engagement, some courts are likely to award the ring to the wronged party. As engagement rings are often more expensive than wedding rings, this may be a relief to some people. However, in most states, such as Texas, even a broken engagement does not mean one party must give the ring back. Find out what the legal precedent is in the state you live in before trying to get a ring back.

Another complicating factor can be the sentimental value of the ring. For example, heirloom rings are different than most wedding rings because of their sentimental value. If one party gave the other a ring belonging to his or her grandparents, many states will award the ring back to the original party. Courts usually try to determine which party has the strongest sentimental connection to the ring and award it to that person.

If one spouse can credibly state that not only was the ring important because of its use in marriage but that he or she was close to the original owner of the ring, that party will likely be allowed to keep it. But if the other spouse can credibly prove that the ring has been in his or her family for years and should remain that way, some courts may award that party the ring.

Typically, once the ring has been gifted, it cannot be taken back

Most states in the United States rule that the ring is an absolute gift. The ring is considered a token of affection and a gift to the other spouse. Once given, it is the property of that spouse. Therefore that spouse can do with it whatever he or she pleases, even if that includes selling it and using the money to finance a new life.

If you upgrade a ring at some point during your marriage, the ring still belongs to the spouse. When a ring is replaced or upgraded during a marriage, most states, such as Montana, consider it to be an outright gift.

However, other states may rule that since it was purchased with marital funds, it is part of the couple’s combined marital property. While the ring will probably still be awarded to that spouse, it is always a good idea to find out if the state in which you are filing for divorce considers rings to be a part of marital assets.

Ultimately, it is difficult for a spouse to get the wedding ring returned to him or her. Before you start that battle, you should be as certain as possible that your case is strong before asking the court to award you the ring. Whenever possible, be kind. A wedding ring may still hold meaning to the person who wants to keep it.

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