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Long Island Divorce Lawyer Explains Who Gets to Keep The Engagement Ring in Nassau County, Suffolk County

by | Apr 5, 2016 | divorce, divorce lawyer long island ny, Family Law Attorney, Family Law Lawyer, marital property, News and Events

In New York, Who Keeps the Ring After the Breakup?

As a divorce lawyer practicing on Long Island, I see many disputes over who gets to keep the engagement ring when couples are going through a divorce.

Engagement rings and wedding rings are given as tokens of love and commitment, and are often a major expenditure. Engagement rings are often given in the spirit of romance and without a second thought about who would keep the rings in the case of a breakup. On Long Island, engagements and marriages are types of legal contracts, and contractual principles of law govern who gets to keep the rings when an engagement or marriage fails and a dispute about ownership arises.

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What Happens to the Engagement Ring if the Marriage Never Takes Place?

Like many other states, New York, has a “no-fault rule” that says whoever gives the engagement ring gets it back in the event of a breakup prior to marriage. New York courts do not consider who initiates or causes the breakup; the person who proposes marriage and gives the engagement ring should always get the ring back regardless of who calls off the wedding. The basis for this rule is similar to that for no-fault divorces: the ability of a court to determine “fault” in a breakup or divorce is often a futile effort. What is a justifiable reason to breakup for one person may not seem justifiable to another. Furthermore, the litigation that can be necessary to establish fault can be expensive, exhausting, and painful. Instead, the view that an engagement ring is a gift that is conditional on the occurrence of the wedding provides a clear-cut rule and consistent outcomes. However, the majority of states, including California and Texas, look to who was at fault for the breakup, and whether the conduct was “justifiable” in the eyes of the law.

When is an Engagement Ring Simply a Gift?

One exception to the New York rule is whether the ring was given as a gift that was not contingent upon the marriage coming to fruition. If the wearer of the ring wishes to make this argument, she must show that the giver had the intent to give an ordinary gift. The recipient of the ring may be able to argue that because a ring was given to her on Christmas or her birthday, the ring was given as an ordinary gift and need not be returned. Another example arises if the giver is married to someone else at the time. Since bigamy is illegal in New York, the ring is likely to be considered a gift.

What Happens to the Engagement Ring In Cases of Divorce?

On the other hand, a failed marriage does not necessarily require that the engagement ring be returned. In fact, the gift becomes final when the marriage taking place. This is because the engagement ring was given with the condition that a marriage take place. After the marriage takes place, the condition has occurred. The recipient has then fulfilled the condition that entitles her to claim the ring as her separate property and she is entitled to keep the ring when the marriage dissolves.

There is Law and There is Courtesy

Fortunately, not every broken engagement leads to a dispute or a battle in court. Cultural etiquette and societal norms often dictate whether an ex-fiancee will return an engagement ring. Under such standards, if the recipient of the ring calls off the wedding, she will usually return the ring without an argument.

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