Engagement Rings: Not Just for Women Anymore.  But What Happens to the Rings When Couples Divorce?

In 2021, the iconic jewelry store Tiffany & Co. released its first line of engagement rings for men, reflecting what we all know – men like jewelry too. An increasing number of men in heterosexual and same-sex couples want to commemorate an engagement with a ring. Click here for a recent article by Brides magazine about the trend.

Rings of any price or size cause fights when an engagement ends or when a divorce comes along. In New Jersey, when couples divorce, the gifts they gave each other during the marriage might be joint property. When spouses exchange gifts before marriage, those generally remain the recipient’s property after divorce. An engagement ring is, however, a conditional gift; the condition is the act of marrying. Breaking the engagement makes the ring returnable to the giver. Until the end of the marriage ceremony, that particular ring remains the property of the person who bought it.

As more women purchase and give engagement rings to men, they may finally understand why so many men have been baffled to hear that the pricey gemstone on a wife’s finger is not joint property, because it was the engagement ring and given prior to marriage. Usually, that is correct but there are important exceptions. If an engagement ring was not purchased with separate pre-marital money, or if it is upgraded or replaced during the marriage, using marital funds (or insurance proceeds from a policy maintained with marital funds), then the ring could be marital property, which a court can value and divide between divorcing spouses.

Your divorce lawyer needs to know all about the ring, if it matters to you whether it stays with the apparent owner. Think about who funded the purchase, with what money. Timing matters so make sure you tell us when the ring was purchased and when it was given to the wearer. Whatever happened to the original ring like an upgrade or replacement could change the whole claim, as could where the ring came from because your situation could be the exception to the usual assumption that an engagement ring should not be returned to the giver prior to a marriage, or in which an engagement ring is not separate property at the time of a divorce.

The family law team at Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann & Knopf, LLP celebrates marriage for all. If the relationship does not last forever, and you have questions about how to divide personal property like jewelry including engagement rings, contact us at 201-845-9600.