Equitable Distribution Of Engagement Rings And Gifts Between Spouses During Marriage

Dividing property during a divorce is difficult from both an emotional and financial standpoint. For that reason the division of sentimental property, including jewelry and gifts from one spouse to another, can be an emotionally charged and expensive process.

One of the most frequently asked questions about the division of property upon divorce is who gets to keep the engagement ring. After all, engagement rings are usually quite expensive, and are a symbol of the commitment the couple made to one another that has been broken. The husband may feel that since he bought the ring he should get it back while he wife may feel that since she was the recipient of the ring she should be able to keep it. The answer to the question of who gets to keep the engagement ring under New Jersey law depends on when the break up of the relationship occurred.

Engagement Rings – Who Keeps The Ring When The Relationship Ends in NJ?

States have varying laws regarding who gets to keep an engagement ring when a couple breaks up. Some states consider who was at fault for the breakup, giving the ring to the person who was not at fault. New Jersey does not take fault into consideration in determining who gets to keep the engagement ring.

Conditional Gift

In New Jersey an engagement ring is considered a conditional gift, meaning that the ring is given on the condition that the parties get married. If the condition is met (the couple marries), then the ring is the property of the wife. Upon divorce, the engagement ring is not subject to equitable distribution and therefore the wife keeps the ring. If the couple never marries, and thus the condition of the gift cannot be met, the engagement ring must be returned under New Jersey law. Aronow v. Silver, 233 N.J. Super 344 (1989).

The New Jersey courts dealt with the distribution of the engagement ring in Winer v. Winer, 241 N.J. Super. 510 (App. Div. 1990). In that case the man gave the woman a 4-karat diamond ring that had been a gift from his mother, and therefore had significant emotional (not to mention financial) value. The former husband sued to have the ring returned to him when the couple divorced. He argued that the gift of an engagement ring did not become effective until after the marriage, and that it then became marital property subject to equitable distribution. The court disagreed with the former husband, holding that the engagement ring was a conditional gift that could only be returned to the former husband if the engagement was called off.

Spousal Gifts – Subject to Equitable Distribution?

Gifts from one spouse to the other during the marriage are considered marital assets and are subject to equitable distribution upon divorce. Gifts from a third party to one spouse during the marriage are considered separate property and are not subject to equitable distribution.

If you have any questions about equitable distribution of marital assets, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen at (201) 845-7400 for a free 30 minute in office consultation.

Sources

Aronow v. Silver , 233 N.J. Super 344 (1989).
Winer v. Winer , 241 N.J. Super. 510 (App. Div. 1990).

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