A diamond is forever. Unfortunately, sometimes marriage is not. So, what happens to the engagement ring?
An engagement ring is in the nature of a pledge, given on the implied condition that a marriage will take place. If the engagement is broken off before marriage, then the “contract to marry” is said to be terminated and the donor (the one who gave the ring) can recover the ring, provided the donor was without fault relative to the breakup. After marriage, however, things are different.
Under Massachusetts law, upon a divorce, marital property is divided equitably. A judge may divide all property to which a party holds title, “however, and whenever acquired.” This means that any property owned by either party at the time of the divorce is subject to being allocated between the parties – including the engagement ring. Further, “fault” in terms of the reason for divorce will not result in the exclusion of the ring from the divisible marital estate. A judge will consider what is equitable under the facts of each case and has the power to order the ring to be retained by either party or sold. While an engagement ring is most often retained by the spouse to whom the ring was given, that does not exclude the value of that ring from the divisible marital estate at the time of divorce.
Proper planning before marriage through a prenuptial agreement can help to avoid fights over the engagement ring later. Where the ring is a family heirloom of the one who popped the question, a prenuptial agreement can provide for the return of the ring to the family in the event the marriage does not last. While it may seem less than ideal to be asking for the ring back before the wedding has even taken place, doing so is better than living with the regret of not having planned ahead.
Until next time,