An engagement ring is a significant investment that represents commitment and love. Unfortunately, not all relationships last, and if your marriage ends, one of the many questions to contend with is, "Who keeps the ring when a relationship ends?"
If you and your fiance or spouse don't agree about who should keep the ring, the discussion can quickly turn contentious. Determining who rightfully owns the ring depends on if you and your fiance broke up before the wedding or if you were already married and are going through a divorce.
Conditional Gifts vs. Unconditional Gifts
Generally, gifts between couples do not have strings attached, but Virginia law distinguishes between two types of gifts, which is relevant when deciding who keeps the ring when a relationship ends:
- An unconditional gift does not have conditions or promises associated with it. If a relationship ends, the recipient of the gift is legally able to keep the gift.
- A conditional gift represents a future commitment. Similar to a contract, if that commitment does not occur, there is a broken contract. The original purchaser of a conditional gift is legally the owner.
Who Keeps the Ring When a Relationship Ends?
If you and your fiance were engaged but not yet married when you broke up, the person who bought and gave the ring usually keeps the engagement ring when the relationship ends.
If you and your spouse were married and are divorcing, the situation is more complex. In the case Hale v. Hale, the court ruled that because the ring was a gift before the marriage started, it is separate property. That means that the recipient keeps the ring in the divorce, according to asset distribution laws that allow spouses to keep the separate property.
However, every relationship and divorce is different. If you or your spouse had the ring altered during the marriage, it may count as marital property. In that case, the giver may have a legal claim to it.
An experienced divorce attorney can review the circumstances around your engagement ring and help determine whether you or your spouse keep it.
Virginia Laws on Engagement Rings
The state of Virginia recognizes engagement rings as conditional gifts because they have an extra layer of meaning and symbolize a promise. When the promise of marriage isn't fulfilled due to a broken engagement, whoever purchased the ring is legally entitled to keep it.
The conditional gift rule can also apply in marriage annulments. Unlike a divorce, an annulment states that because the marriage never occurred, the commitment to marry never occurred.
Contact Our Family Law Attorneys in Virginia
The contemplation of marriage is a momentous decision that comes with legal and financial responsibilities.
Who keeps the ring when a relationship ends? When it comes to these questions about engagement, marriage, or divorce, a family law lawyer can provide legal advice. Our attorneys can provide guidance on potential difficulties associated with marriage and offer peace of mind as couples embark on this next step together.
At the DiPietro Law Group, we provide representation for family law matters in Virginia. Contact our experienced attorneys at (888) 530-4374 for your consultation.