Whether you are asking your fiancé to marry you or are on the receiving end of a beautiful diamond engagement ring, the underlying intent in giving an engagement ring to your partner is that the relationship will last forever. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it does not.
Is this merely an etiquette issue?
The issue of who keeps the engagement ring if a couple breaks up is not merely a matter of etiquette or politeness but an issue of legal importance.
New York laws
Generally speaking, the state of New York states that the determining factor in who keeps the engagement ring is whether the end of the relationship took place before or after the marriage.
In other words, if the relationship ends before the marriage, the engagement ring should be returned to the individual who gave it. If the relationship ends after the wedding takes place, the engagement ring belongs to the individual who received it.
Like most things, however, the state of New York has a couple of exceptions, which include:
The ring was a true gift and not only an engagement ring. Suppose an individual gives a ring to his fiancé as a birthday present or Christmas gift in addition to an engagement ring. In that case, the recipient may be able to legally keep it.
The individual who gave the ring was married at the time of giving it. New York law does not consider the ring a true engagement ring if the individual who gave it is married to someone else because they legally cannot marry the person they are giving a ring to.
Personal or marital property?
Judges interpret laws differently. Some judges think an engagement ring is separate individual property. In contrast, others believe it is marital property and subject to division in the case of a divorce. Marital property is subject to New York’s equitable distribution laws.
Specific circumstances surrounding the ring may also play a role. For example, suppose the owner of the ring alters the ring during the marriage or “upgrades” it to contain additional diamonds.
In that case, judges may view this as marital property because the alterations occurred during the marriage and the money spent to make the changes came from marital funds.
Courts around the country often consider an engagement ring individual property if the couple marries, because the engagement ring is given by an individual to another individual in exchange for the promise to marry. If the marriage takes place, the contract is complete.
The end of any relationship is difficult for the parties involved and the separation of assets certainly complicates things further. However, it is critical to understand what your rights and responsibilities are under New York law should you receive a ring as an engagement present.