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In a divorce, who keeps the ring?

On Behalf of | Aug 21, 2023 | Complex Property Division

An engagement ring or a wedding ring can be a very expensive purchase. Some people spend thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars on these meaningful tokens. Even a relatively inexpensive ring could still be hundreds of dollars. And even if there’s not a high financial price tag attached to a ring, it could be a family heirloom or an object that has a great deal of sentimental value.

But when a couple gets divorced, what happens to the ring(s)? Does the recipient get to keep it or not?

The rules in Kentucky

The rules concerning “who gets to keep the ring” are actually set on a state-by-state basis. In some instances, states have determined that a ring doesn’t have to be returned. Others have determined that it does. There are also cases where a ring does not have to be returned during a divorce, but it would if the person broke off the engagement prior to getting married.

Kentucky has addressed this issue in a court case, and rings have been determined to be conditional gifts. The condition of the gift is marriage. This is important because many gifts stay with the person to whom they were given, even through a divorce. This would suggest that the recipient would retain the ring indefinitely. But if they asked for the divorce, that breaks the conditions under which the ring was given. This means it has to be returned.

With that being said, the case that made this determination was back in 1926. Sources indicate that it does not state what should happen if an engagement is broken off prior to a divorce. So, this is still something of a legal gray area, in that sense. In some states, an engagement ring has to be returned, but a wedding ring does not because the condition – getting married – has been met. Kentucky has rejected this idea in favor of making wedding rings conditional for the entire course of the marriage.

Dividing up assets

A wedding ring is just one expensive asset that a couple may need to address during divorce. But it helps to show how quickly things can become contentious. Both people may authentically believe that they deserve specific assets, but they cannot both take those assets out of the marriage. When conflicts arise, it’s important to understand all potential legal options.