Who Gets the Ring in a Divorce or Broken Engagement?

Breaking up is hard, especially after years of marriage. Since rings are such a strong symbol of marriage, and many married people become very close to engagement rings and wedding rings, the question of who gets the rings is very difficult. Especially when wedding rings – or the engagement ring – are worth a lot of money, this question could be something worth fighting over. This can also be extremely important when wedding or engagement rings are family heirlooms.

Luckily, Pennsylvania’s laws are quite clear on what happens to the rings in a broken engagement or divorce. If you need an attorney for your divorce case, or you are unsure how your assets will be divided, talk to an experienced divorce attorney. The lawyers at Sadek and Cooper practice family law in the greater Philadelphia area, and offer free consultations on new cases.

Who Gets the Engagement Ring in a Broken Engagement?

Pennsylvania’s laws are quite clear on how the engagement ring is treated when an engaged couple breaks up. Since the couple is not married yet, there is no legal presumption that anything is “jointly owned” or “marital property.” That means that everything belongs to one party or the other – unless it was purchased jointly.

If you and your fiancé(e) split the cost of the engagement ring, then you would each be entitled to half the cost. If, for whatever reason, you purchased your own engagement ring for yourself, then the rule is easy: your own property still belongs to you, so the ring is still yours to do with as you will.

In the more traditional scenario, one party gives the other an engagement ring. Under Pennsylvania law, the ring does not automatically become the property of the recipient. Instead, Pennsylvania considers an engagement ring a “conditional gift.” That means that it is a gift is not completed until the condition that the marriage actually happens is met.

If you break up with your fiancé(e) before getting married, the ring legally belongs to the person who initially purchased it and gave it to the other. This is the general rule, and there might be exceptions to this rule. If your situation is more complicated, do talk to an attorney about your specific situation.

This rule should apply regardless of gender and regardless of who broke off the engagement. Today, many couples may not consist of a man who asks a woman to marry him with an engagement ring, but the rule should still apply the same way. Whoever initially purchased the ring should get the ring back, since the condition for the gift was not met. The same is true of mutual engagement rings, where each party gets one. If you purchased both rings, you get both rings back; if you purchased rings for each other, you get back the ring you paid for. These rules also apply no matter who ended the engagement, and fault is not a factor at all.

Who Gets the Rings in a Divorce?

The rules for an engagement ring are relatively clear in Pennsylvania – but courts do sometimes disagree. Since the engagement ring is a conditional gift, the gift is not “fully given” until the marriage happens, and the recipient does not take full title and possession of the ring until the marriage occurs. Any property acquired by either spouse during the marriage is part of the “marital property” in Pennsylvania, and both parties divide this upon divorce. That means that the ring becomes part of that marital property, and is subject to equitable division when the parties get divorced.

Wedding rings, on the other hand, are more complicated. According to 23 Pa.C.S. § 3501(a)(3), gifts between spouses are specifically included as part of marital property. That means that any gifts given from one spouse to the other during the marriage are part of the marital estate, and should be divided upon divorce. This reinforces the rule for splitting an engagement ring, and clears up any questions of other jewelry given as a gift during the marriage. To be clear, this means that any gifts of jewelry, such as engagement rings, anniversary gifts, Mothers’ Day gifts, Valentine’s Day gifts, or any other jewelry are all considered part of the marital estate and should be divided upon divorce.

However, wedding rings seem more complicated, since each party gets one – and they are usually purchased before the marriage. Since you buy them before marriage, they are not necessarily part of the marital estate. The party who purchased the rings may be able to keep his or her own ring, but loses the other to the marital estate as a gift to the other spouse. Alternatively, if both parties contributed to the cost of the rings, they may have been jointly owned before marriage, and should be divided regardless.

Despite these rules and the confusion, many Pennsylvania courts completely disregard the rule and allow the recipients to keep their rings. This is not always the correct legal decision, but may sometimes be the best result for both parties.

Lastly, while the value of the rings may become part of the marital estate, one party may be able to keep the physical ring by giving up something else to cover its value. For example, if the husband wants to keep his grandmother’s engagement ring, the wife could agree to give up her half-share in the ring to keep a favorite necklace. The value is divided equitably, but the physical assets are kept intact. This is especially important when the items have sentimental value for one party, such as family heirlooms.

Philadelphia Divorce Lawyers

If you are considering divorce, or you are in the middle of a divorce and have questions about how assets are divided, talk to an attorney about your case. Not every case is a straightforward, “traditional” situation, and many cases require negotiation between the parties to help everyone achieve their goals. The attorneys at Sadek and Cooper offer free consultations on new cases, so call 215-814-0395 today to talk to our lawyers about your divorce.

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