In the fairytale version of our lives, two people meet, fall in love, one proposes marriage with a ring, the other accepts, they get married, and they live happily ever after. Engagement jewelry is made to last, is quite expensive, and has a lot of emotional attachment for both the giver and receiver.
As you can see, when a ring is offered and accepted for an engagement or wedding, it is a pretty big financial and emotional commitment. And, unfortunately, life is not always a fairytale, and not every romance will make it. Some might end before a couple even walks down the aisle, or some may end in divorce years later. Both parties may have a sentimental or monetary attachment to the ring, and want to keep it or have it back.
But who is actually entitled to it?
After a broken engagement
The majority of states, including Tennessee, consider engagement rings “conditional” gifts. These are gifts that bring an implication that a marriage will eventually occur. Because the marriage is an implied condition that is attached to the ring, the giver has the right to take the ring back if the marriage is called off. This is true even if the person who gave the ring is the one who called off the wedding, or caused it to be called off.
This issue was dealt with by the Tennessee Court of Appeals in 2007 with Crippen v. Campbell, where they stated, “In summary, we hold that an engagement ring is given in contemplation of marriage, and, as such, is impliedly a conditional gift. If marriage, for whatever reason, does not ensue, ownership of the ring never vests in the donee and the donor is entitled to the return of the ring… If and when that which the parties contemplated—the marriage—does not occur, the engagement ring goes back to the one who gave it.”
There is one wrinkle with engagement rings where they might be classified as unconditional, however. If an engagement ring is given as part of a special occasion—like Valentine’s Day, Christmas, or a birthday—the receiver of the ring might argue that the ring is associated with the occasion and not the promise of marriage.
After a divorce
During a divorce, both spouses are entitled to an equitable split of the marital assets. However, engagement rings are usually considered to be premarital gifts, meaning the giver loses his or her legal ownership once the condition of marriage is fulfilled. As it is now the receiver’s personal property, the ring is not subject to the division of assets. Any other jewelry given in anticipation of marriage, even family heirlooms, also become the receiver’s personal property after marriage, unless otherwise specified in a prenuptial agreement.
When going through a divorce, you have the right to keep the property and assets that are yours. If you have questions about division of marital assets or have concerns about any aspects of your divorce, the Nashville divorce attorneys at Miller Upshaw Family Law, PLLC can help. Our lawyers are skilled, experienced, and ready to work for you. Please call 615.454.9899 or use our contact form to schedule a consultation.