The Engagement Ring
One of the happiest times in your life came when you heard the answer to that one question or when you heard the question itself – “will you marry me?” The moment seemed right. The moment seemed perfect. However, for whatever reason that moment did not last. After you and your spouse married, the relationship just did not end up how you imagined. Arguments ensued and you could not meet eye to eye. After serious thought and contemplation you decided to get a divorce. What’s next? What happens to all of the property you and your spouse accumulated during your marriage? You just got married so what happens to all of the gifts you and your spouse received from our family and friends? Or one of the more hotly disputed item – Who gets the engagement ring? This article will provide you with information regarding who keeps the engagement ring.
“An engagement ring is a conditional gift.” Winer v. Winer, 241 N.J. Super. 510, 528, 575 A. 2d 518 (App. Div. 1990). See also, Aronow v. Silver, 223 N.J. Super. 344, 347, 538 A.2d 851 (Ch.Div. 1987), quoting Sloin v. Lavine, 11 N.J. Misc. 899, 900, 168 A. 849 (Sup.Ct. 1933) and Albanese v. Indelicato, 25 N.J. Misc. 144, 144-45, 51 A.2d 110 (D.Ct. 1947). “The condition is marriage and the ring is returnable only if the engagement is broken.” Id. at 528. See also, Aronow, 223 N.J. Super. at 348-50, 538 A.2d 851.
In Winer, Mr. Winer proposed to his soon to be wife. Mrs. Winer was given, what most would consider a family heirloom, Mr. Winer’s deceased mother’s 4-carat engagement ring. The parties’ marriage did not work out. In Winer, the Court determined that the engagement ring was a conditional gift satisfied my marriage and not subject to equitable distribution. Mrs. Winer was to keep the ring. Mr. Winer of course argued that the ring was marital property subject to equitable distribution. Mr. Winer appealed the Trial Court’s decision.
The Winer Court agreed with the reasoning of the Court in Lipton. “The question of the conditional nature of the gift became moot upon the marriage when the ring unconditionally became the property of the plaintiff. Therefore, the ring given prior to the marriage retains its character as separate property not subject to equitable distribution.” Id. at 528 (quoting Lipton v. Lipton, 134 Misc.2d 1076, 514 N.Y.S.2d 158, 159-60 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1986)).
“[The engagement ring] is impliedly conditional, and must be returned, particularly when the engagement is broken by the donee, as the court was entitled to find in this case.” Aronow v. Silver, 223 N.J. Super. 344, 347, 538 A. 2d 851 (1987) (quoting Sloin v. Lavine, 11 N.J. Misc. 899, 900 (Sup.Ct. 1933). The Court in Albanese rejected the Sloin Court’s opinion that the cause or fault of the end of the engagement determines the disposition of the ring. “An engagement ring is a symbol or pledge of the coming marriage and signifies that the one who wears it is engaged to marry the man who gave it to her. If the engagement is broken off the ring should be returned since it is a conditional gift… It does not matter who broke the engagement… The important thing is that the gift was conditional and the condition was not fulfilled.” Id. at 347 (quoting Albanese v. Indelicato, 25 N.J. Misc. 144 (D.Ct. 1947)).
In Aronow, the parties were experiencing ongoing problems during their engagement which resulted in several cancellations of their engagement. The parties’ engagement finally came to an end mere days from the marriage ceremony. Each party fault the other for the collapse of their engagement and made a claim for the engagement ring and other property. The Court rejected the parties’ claims of fault in its determination of who should take possession of the ring.
Simply, the engagement ring is conditioned on the marriage. If the parties do not get married then the engagement ring must be returned. However, if the parties marry the condition is satisfied and is not subject to equitable distribution should the parties divorce. Fault is not a factor. If you or someone you know is experiencing the same issues addressed in this articles in is important that the party seek the appropriate legal advice from a qualified Family Law and Divorce Attorney.