engagement ring

We’re Splitting Up: Who Gets the Ring?

An engagement ring is inherently valuable.  Not only because the average amount spent on one is around $5,000.00.  The ring also holds sentimental value.  It could even be a family heirloom.  When a couple separates, either before or after marriage, determining who gets the ring is often one of the first things on people’s minds.

When Couples Separate Before Marriage

In North Carolina, there is no court opinion or statute that directly relates to the distribution of engagement rings.  However, a majority of states treat engagement rings as “conditional” gifts.  Meaning, marriage is a condition of the gift.

Similarly, North Carolina recognizes “implied conditions” when determining whether something is a gift.  There is an implied condition that an engagement ring is given for the purpose of marriage.  If the parties marry, the condition is complete.  The person who received the ring gets to keep the ring.  However, if the couple separates before the marriage takes place, the condition wasn’t fulfilled.  In that case, the ring is returned.

What if the Ring Wasn’t Given as an Engagement Ring?

Again, there is no direct case law in North Carolina at this time.  However, if the ring wasn’t given as an engagement ring, it isn’t a conditional gift.  The person who received it should keep it.  That being said, if the case is taken to court, the judge will look at the facts and circumstances surrounding the case.  New York follows the majority “conditional gift” approach for engagement rings.  There, a judge found that the woman could keep the $10,000.00 ring because there was no evidence to indicate it was an engagement ring.  In that case, the man did not propose.  He told her it was for being a great woman and a good mother.

When Couples Separate After Marriage

Once a marriage takes place, the gift is complete and the ring becomes the separate property of the person who received it.  Generally, a court will grant ownership to the person who received it.  If the ring is a family heirloom, it’s best to make arrangements for it in a prenuptial agreement.

Every case is different so you should contact us if you find yourself in a property rights lawsuit.