When you’re separating from your spouse, there’s a lot to consider. You need to set up your own independent lives while navigating the legal system. Starting your new life is much easier when you understand which assets are yours to keep. The problem is that sometimes the asset division process isn’t exactly cut and dried.
For example, many couples argue over who gets to keep the engagement ring when they split. That’s understandable. The average cost of an engagement ring is $5,500, but it can skew much higher. Many celebrity rings are valued at hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.
Obviously, anything that’s worth that much money is worth fighting for in your divorce. Adding the emotional significance of the ring only makes it more valuable. The problem is deciding who gets to keep it. Here’s what you need to know about how California splits non-divisible assets like engagement rings in a divorce.
Engagement Ring Ownership: Why It’s Complicated
Engagement rings have a long history of being contentious property. People have been giving each other rings as a sign that they intend to get married for hundreds of years. It’s always been important that these rings were expensive, though diamonds only became popular in the 20th century. They were both a promise and a high-value gift to the recipient.
In some ways, the engagement ring was the opposite of a dowry. Giving a bride-to-be an expensive gift was a sign that the giver was serious about the relationship. It also came with an important tradition: the recipient was allowed to keep the ring if the giver broke off the engagement.
Today that means that many women expect to keep their engagement ring if their partner decides to leave them. However, the law doesn’t always back that up.
Engagement Rings and the Law
In the US, engagement rings are generally considered “conditional gifts.” A conditional gift is any present that is given to someone with conditions attached. An engagement’s condition is the promise of marriage. If that marriage doesn’t take place, then the gift can be revoked. Deciding which party ended the engagement is irrelevant; the person who gave the ring can argue for its return.
California law supports that interpretation. It states that “Where either party to a contemplated marriage in this State makes a gift of money or property to the other on the basis or assumption that the marriage will take place, in the event that the donee refuses to enter into the marriage as contemplated or that it is given up by mutual consent, the donor may recover such gift or such part of its value as may, under all of the circumstances of the case, be found by a court or jury to be just.”
The situation gets even more complicated after a couple gets married. Engagement rings are technically given based on the condition of marriage, so that condition could be considered met at the wedding. That means that theoretically, the ring is officially separate property owned by the recipient. The problem is that many people argue that the condition is of the gift is a successful marriage, and a divorce negates that.
The exact way that courts handle these cases varies dramatically. Judges often consider elements like:
- The length of the marriage
- The provenance of the ring (e.g., whether it was a family heirloom of the giver)
- How the ring purchase was funded
Generally, judges in the asset division stage of divorce proceedings award wedding rings to the recipient if the couple has gotten married and then divorced, but not always.
In rare cases, the ring may be considered marital property. This is more common if a prenuptial agreement is in place or if the engagement ring was replaced at some point. In this case, the judge will have to include the ring in the overall division of assets. Unlike finances, a ring can’t be split down the middle. It’s a “non-divisible” asset.
Asset Division of Non-Divisible Assets in Divorces
A non-divisible asset is any property that you can’t divide between two people. An engagement ring is non-divisible because there’s no way for both people to keep it and all its emotional significance. Other non-divisible assets include:
- Annuities: An annuity is a legal contract with an insurance company. It promises periodic payments for a designated period, such as the lifetime of a person. Splitting annuities between two people takes much more work than simply selling them or agreeing to split the eventual payments.
- Pets: A pet may have low cash value but significant emotional value, making it challenging to give to one party.
- Family heirlooms: A family heirloom given to a couple jointly is considered marital property. Unless both parties are willing to sell it, then its emotional value is non-divisible.
- Property that can’t be sold: Any property that can’t be easily sold or valued is non-divisible.
Any non-divisible assets make the division of assets much more complex. A judge is unlikely to understand the full emotional and financial impact of granting non-divisible property to one party. That can lead to an unfair decision that leaves one party without the property that really matters to them.
The simplest way to navigate these situations is to work with a mediator or arbitrator during the divorce. These people help you come to a fair agreement regarding each asset. You can work together to decide who receives the engagement ring and any annuities. As a result, you’re more likely to achieve a division that’s both financially equitable and emotionally satisfying.
Keep the Property that Matters to You
When you split from your partner, it can take a lot of work to keep property with emotional value. If you have an engagement ring, annuities, or even a pet you want to keep, you’ll need to negotiate carefully. Non-divisible assets are difficult to divide and require all parties to work together.
That’s why you should reach out to a qualified asset division attorney. You don’t need to face the legal system alone. The right attorney will help you keep the property that matters to you without dragging out the divorce process. Get in touch today to take your first steps to your new, independent life.