By Matt Rooney
It is not uncommon for divorcing spouses to inquire as to who gets to keep one of any couple’s most expensive pieces of personal property: the engagement ring.
While there are few “bright-line rule” in family court, this particular issue is relatively straightforward for most divorce litigants.
In New Jersey, engagement rings are considered “conditional gifts.” The party giving the ring is therefore entitled to get the ring back if the engagement is broken off and there is no wedding. That’s because the giving of the ring was conditioned upon marriage. If the marriage does not happen? The condition isn’t satisfied and the ring should be returned. Many contractual arrangements function similarly.
The analysis changes after both parties say “I do.” At the time of marriage, the ring transforms into a completed gift since the condition – marriage – was satisfied. The ring does not just belong to the recipient; it’s also immune from equitable distribution, meaning that the party who gave it cannot sue for “half” of the value, or any other sum of equity in the ring, at the time of divorce. The owner keeps it outright.
These concepts were illustrated in the New Jersey Superior Court case Winer v. Winer, 241 N.J. Super. 510 (1990). The Winer Husband had given his fiancee an expensive four-carat engagement ring. They subsequently married. Later, after the parties initiated divorce proceedings, the Court ultimately ruled that the engagement ring had been a conditional gift subject to the marriage. After the marriage happened, the ring was no longer a conditional gift. The Wife could keep the ring outright.
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