What About the Ring? Breakups, Divorce & New Jersey Law

What About the Ring? Breakups, Divorce & New Jersey Law

Not everything turns out as expected, especially when it comes to relationships and marriage. In fact, statistics show that roughly 1 in 5 engagements are canceled before couples officially get married, and that as many as 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. With statistics like these, it makes sense why people often have many questions about their rights and their property in the event that they end and engagement or divorce their spouse. That includes questions about what happens to the ring.

By focusing our practice on divorce and family law, our attorneys at Moskowitz Law Group, LLC have handled a wide range of cases involving many different issues and types of people. Although we place an emphasis on personally attending to our clients and tailoring strategies their unique cases, there are some general ways to address this question and explain how New Jersey law works when it comes to engagement rings and wedding rings.

When Couples Don’t Get Married

There are times when engaged couples don’t follow through with their plans to marry. In This situation, there can be a lot of questions and debate over who gets to keep the engagement ring. New Jersey law, as well as case law established by rulings on this predicament, can clear up that confusion.

  • Aronow v. Silver – The case of Aronow v. Silver establishes the precedent for how engagement ring cases are typically handled in New Jersey. In that case, which involved a volatile relationship during which the engagement was called off multiple time before it was finally ended prior to the wedding, the court departed from a “fault-based” system used by many other states around the country when handling such matters. Essentially, they ruled it did not matter who was at fault for ending the engagement (as in other states, a person at fault for the split might not be able to keep the ring). Instead, the court based its decision on the “conditional” nature of the ring.
  • Conditional Gift – In New Jersey, an engagement ring is a conditional gift. This means gift has some type of “condition” attached to it. In the case of an engagement ring, the clear “condition” here would be marriage. As New Jersey courts have ruled, an engagement ring is a symbolic pledge of a coming marriage, and that by giving a ring to someone, or accepting it and wearing it, that person signifies their intent to follow through with the marriage.
  • Main Factors – By applying the rule of conditional gifts, New Jersey courts typically handle matters involving ownership of engagement rings in a way that can be straightforward and condensed into a few main factors. (1) Did the person who gave the ring provide it with the intent to marry? (2) Did the other party actually receive and accept it signifying their intent to marry as well? and (3) Did the wedding happen? These are the primary elements courts use to determine ownership in most cancelled engagement rings, and it typically means the person who gifted the ring, upon the termination of the engagement, gets to keep it.
  • Prenups – There may be exceptions to the rule of conditional gifts if an engaged couple had some type of prenuptial or premarital agreement they both signed that contains terms about what should happen to the ring. In such a situation, the terms of a legally binding pre-marital contact are typically followed.

When Couples Get Married, Then Divorced

For as many instances of couples getting engaged and never quite making it to marriage, there are many more involving couples who do legally wed, only to file for divorce at a later time. In this situation, unfamiliarity with the divorce process, laws, and matters such as the division of assets can also lead divorcing spouses to raise questions about what happens to the ring (be it an engagement ring, a wedding band or ring, or both). New Jersey courts have also ruled on cases like these, and they tend to follow the rules of conditional gifts. In Winer v. Winer, for example, the court ruled that any questions regarding the ownership of an engagement ring become moot when an engaged couple gets married. In short, getting married means the condition has been met, and that the person who received the engagement ring is entitled to keep it in divorce.

Exploring Your Options with Experienced Family Lawyers

While New Jersey courts take a consistent stance on what happens to the ring when an engagement or marriage dissolves, there may still be options for those who truly want to keep a ring that, under the law, they are not entitled to keep. This may be common in situations where the ring has some type of other meaning or value attached to it, such as when it’s been handled down through a family and is part of a tradition.

In situations like this, parties who want to get the ring back may be able to do so by negotiating different arrangements in matters like property division or alimony. For example, a spouse may agree to give up their share of a particular asset in exchange for the ring. Apart from negotiating a settlement, another option to protect the ring would be to create a prenuptial or post-marital agreement that contains mutually agreed upon provisions about what happens to the ring in divorce, or even if the wedding never happens.

At Moskowitz Law Group, LLC, we help clients explore their available options for customized solutions and strategies to address their unique issues. If you have questions about the ownership of a ring, a potential divorce case, or any other family law matter, we are available 24/7 to take your call. Contact us today to request a free initial consultation.

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