Who Keeps the Engagement Ring in a Divorce?
The question of who gets to keep the engagement ring in a divorce tends to be a question asked very often by the divorce clients of our firm. This is in large part due to the fact that it is not generally a question that is asked until a spouse is either contemplating a divorce or is in the process of getting divorced.
Unfortunately, the law does not provide a clear cut answer. In fact, there are currently two opposing theories of law regarding engagement rings in New York and the issue often turns on the specific opinion of a divorce trial judge and sometimes depends upon the county in which you are seeking to obtain a divorce.
Engagement Rings in a Westchester County Divorce and 9 th Judicial District
In the Ninth Judicial District of New York, which includes Westchester County, as well as Putnam, Dutchess, Rockland and Orange Counties, the generally accepted prevailing law on the issue is that an engagement ring is considered "marital property". Marital property is any property acquired by either spouse during the marriage. This is where some confusion comes in because people generally believe that the engagement ring is property acquired before the marriage.
In New York, an engagement ring is given to the other spouse as a "conditional gift", that is a gift given on the condition that there will be a marriage. As a consequence, the person who receives the ring only has the right of possession until the marriage occurs. If the marriage does not occur then the engagement ring is the property of the person who gave the ring. Since title to the ring does not vest until there is a marriage, title to the ring is thus acquired during the marriage. Accordingly, since it was property acquired during the marriage, the engagement ring is considered marital property and thus subject to New York's Equitable Distribution Laws. This law requires the court to "equitably", or fairly, distribute the marital property to the spouses in light of the particular circumstances of each divorce.
Thus, if the spouses cannot come to an agreement on what happens to the engagement ring, i.e. one spouse gets to keep it or it is sold and the proceeds divided, then the divorce trial court judge will decide what happens to the ring pursuant to the Equitable Distribution laws.
Engagement Rings Outside of Westchester County and the 9 th Judicial District
While the trial judges in divorce courts outside of Westchester County and the Ninth Judicial District are free to rely on the law as discussed above, and they sometimes do, there is an opposing theory of law that has existed for several decades. While this theory also follows the law of the engagement rings being a "conditional gift" as discussed above, once a marriage occurs the engagement ring is not considered "marital property". Instead, it is considered the "separate property" of the recipient spouse and by reason of this fact, the engagement ring is not subject to Equitable Distribution and will remain the sole and exclusive property of the recipient spouse. The reasoning behind this is that the conditional nature of the gift becomes moot when the marriage occurs and thus unconditionally becomes the property of the recipient spouse upon marriage.
New York Engagement Ring Law
The bottom line is that no matter where your divorce is pending in New York, a divorce trial court judge is free to rely upon either theory of law when deciding who gets to keep the engagement ring. However, in a Westchester County divorce it is very likely that a divorce trial judge will apply the theory of law that the engagement ring is marital property and subject to Equitable Distribution. In this instance, the engagement rings gets put into the "pot" with the rest of the spouses' marital property and will be divided "equitably" between the spouses as the divorce trial judge deems proper under the specific facts of each divorce.
Engagement Rings and the Necessity of a Divorce Lawyer
As is plain to see from above, the question of who gets to keep the engagement ring in a Westchester County Divorce can depend entirely upon the specific position of the divorce trial court judge. This why you should consult a skilled and experienced White Plains divorce lawyer who is familiar with the Westchester County Divorce Court and the law regarding engagement rings so that your position may be presented to the judge in the most legally articulate manner possible.
Contact us today to schedule a consultation! We're ready to fight for you!