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Is an Engagement Ring Considered Community Property?

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Valentine’s Day is coming up, which means a bump in both engagements and divorce filings may soon come up. At the center of this strange convergence are engagement rings, which may be given or returned during this difficult season.

An engagement ring – and a wedding ring, for that matter – is often an item whose sentimental value far exceeds its actual monetary value. Sentimental value, however, can get thrown out the window during a divorce when both parties are trying to split their community property during a divorce.

The real value of a wedding or engagement ring can be, and often is, significant enough for concern. A jewelry piece of any kind can be a high-value asset, but not many people look for a bargain when they’re purchasing an Earthly representation of their love and commitment.

So how do rings factor in a divorce? Unfortunately for ring-givers hoping to recover their investments, the courts generally view engagement rings and wedding rings as separate property. They are “gift[s] in contemplation of marriage” (Cal. Civ. Code §1590) or “conditional gifts,” as far the law is concerned. The argument goes that the ring was given to someone before marriage and as a condition of marriage, so it counts as their separate property if the marriage occurred and was consummated.

When the Ring Is a Family Heirloom

Sometimes people propose to their loved ones with a ring that once belonged to another relative in their family – like a mother, grandmother, or even earlier than that. When an engagement or wedding ring is such an heirloom, the courts look at its ownership a little differently during divorce.

It’s not a guarantee, as few matters are in divorce, but a ring-giver who used a family heirloom to propose or wed someone else has the right to request its return. This can hold true whether the marriage was consummated or even if the ring-giver was responsible for breaking off the engagement.

When an Engagement Breaks up

If an engagement falls through, the law is inclined to permit the ring-giver to have the ring returned. This is because the ring was a conditional gift where the condition was marriage. If the marriage did not occur, the ring can be returned.

Still, though, the court will evaluate who broke off the engagement. Because the ring was a conditional gift, it could just as well be that the recipient was expecting marriage before the ring-giver called the wedding off. Because the ring-giver is responsible for breaking the condition of marriage, the ring’s recipient may end up keeping it.

How to Avoid Engagement Ring Disputes During Divorce

A lot of time can be wasted during divorce proceedings if parties are fighting over who gets which rings back and whether or not they’re family heirlooms. Arguments like these over specific items can bog down the process and drag it out for much longer than is necessary.

Perhaps the best way for couples to avoid skirmishing with one another over ownership of a ring during divorce is to prevent it from happening. This can be done by settling ownership with a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.

By outlining which property belongs to either party as separate property before marriage, couples who later divorce can avoid wasting time and money fighting over individual items or assets – rings of all kinds included.

Do You Need Legal Assistance?

If you are dealing with a property division dispute during your divorce, or wish to preclude one with a pre- or postnuptial agreement, you can reach out to Claery & Hammond, LLP for assistance with these matters. Our divorce lawyers are skilled advocates for our clients, who rely on us for help during sensitive and difficult times.

If you want to learn more about what we can do for you, schedule a consultation with us. You can explain your situation and concerns to one of our attorneys, who can provide options for how Claery & Hammond, LLP can help.

Get in touch with us today by connecting with our firm online.

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