Engagement rings can have special emotions and prices attached. Ownership of an engagement ring is a topic commonly discussed when dealing with divorce and separation. Engagement rings typically come with a high price and the condition of marriage. Each case differs depending on the circumstances of the relationship. However, in the state of Florida engagement rings are generally seen as premarital or nonmarital property as long as a marriage was fulfilled. Since rings are typically received as a gift prior to the marriage, they do not fall under the marital property laws included in the equitable distribution statute. Therefore, they belong the recipient of the gifted or proposed ring. Rings are seen as conditional gifts, implying that when you accept the engagement ring the condition of marriage is attached to it.
Determining Conditions That Can Affect Who Gets the Ring
A conditional gift is typically seen as a gift that can be taken back if the conditions of the gift are not met. When engagement rings are treated as this kind of gift, this entails that there are conditions of marriage that need to be met. If these conditions are met, then the ring belongs to the donee seeing that they fulfilled their agreement to marry their partner. However, things differ if a wedding never occurs or the conditions are not met. Then the spouse that gave the ring may have the possibility of getting the ring back. This is also dependent upon the conditions of how the relationship ended or broke up and other determining features like whether or not the item was an heirloom.
If the marriage never happens then the court rules who gets ownership over the ring by determining who was responsible for the termination of the relationship. When the engagement is terminated by the donee of the ring, the ring returns to the donor because the donee has broken the conditions of the ring by not going through with the marriage.
If the separation of the engagement was initiated by the donor of the ring, then the donee would receive the ring because they did not deliberately violate the conditions required to keep the ring. In this situation the ring is considered a conditional gift, but now the conditional gift is deemed void due to the donor’s decision to terminate the engagement, making the ring the donee’s property. If the separation is mutual then the ring would return to the donor because the conditions were not met, and the donor originally purchased the ring.
However, if the marriage ends in divorce, in most cases the ring would stay with the donee because they met the conditions that came with the ring. Typically, once the donee has met the condition of marriage associated with the ring, it is considered non-marital property and seen as property of the recipient.
Ownership of Engagement Ring Cases
There have been several cases that pertain to ownership of engagement rings. One example of a case was Gill v. Shively, 320 So. 2d 415 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1975). This case dealt with the return of the engagement ring from Ms. Shively to Mr. Gill under the pretense that it was conditional gift. The court ruled that the ring was a conditional gift in which Ms. Shively did not follow through with the agreement of marriage. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded the rulings.
Another example of a case dealing with an engagement ring is Malone v. Malone, 929 So. 2d 541 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2006). However, in this case the former Mrs. Malone did fulfill the condition of marriage. Because she was given the ring before marriage the court ruled the ring as a non-marital asset. This case was also reversed and remanded, ruling that the engagement ring was a separate asset and not subject to equitable distribution under Florida statute. Cases that deal engagement rings before being officially married are pretty dependent upon which party is responsible for the ending of the relationship. After a couple is officially married, the ring generally is not included in martial assets due to the ring being given before marriage.
What Happens with Engagement Rings Given on Special Occasions and Holidays?
Things get a little more difficult to establish when rings were given on special occasions and holidays. It can be contended in some of these cases that the ring was an unconditional gift. Meaning that if the ring was given on as a special occasion, then sometimes it can be argued that there was no explicit implication or promise of marriage and they do not have to return the gift.
In Florida, a gift that carries no conditions is seen as unconditional in court and therefore returned to the donor. Generally, when people receive presents on a holiday, they normally do not have to return them. If one were to give an engagement as part of a special occasion, such as Valentine’s Day or Christmas, one party could argue that the gift, the ring in this case, was given in association with the holiday and not the promise of a marriage. This would make the ring an unconditional gift as the ring would be associated with the given holiday and not marriage.
However, each case can vary depending on the certain features of the relationship. Generally, the buyer of the ring is entitled to its return if the relationship is terminated by the recipient or if there is a mutual agreement or consent. However, one exception is if the ring is upgraded. If a couple upgrades the engagement ring, it is more common that the recipient is awarded the ring by a court. Although aspects vary from case to case, in most instances whether or not a marriage was established and the responsible party for ending the relationship are large factors taken into consideration. Of course, there are exceptions depending on the circumstance.
A Family Heirloom Case
For example, heirlooms can be more difficult to determine who may get to keep the ring. In Randall v. Randall, 56 So. 3d 817, 818 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2011) the former Mrs. Randall was awarded the ring although it was the husbands family heirloom. The former Mrs. Randall did fulfill the condition of marriage, making the ring a nonmarital piece of property. Although, the court ended up treating the ring as an heirloom, meaning that it should not be sold and should instead be given or passed down to their children. However, this was ruling was later reversed and remanded for further proceedings due to the fact that under Florida law there are no explicit distinctions for the special treatment of heirlooms.
Similarly, to the cases of Gill v. Shively and Malone v. Malone the ring was a gift with the condition of marriage being fulfilled, making the ring a nonmarital piece of property not subject to equitable distribution. Depending on the circumstances, the ownership of an engagement ring can be tricky and confusing. Understanding what a conditional gift entails, when the condition of marriage is followed through and completed then typically the ring becomes a nonmarital asset because it was given before the marriage. When those conditions are not met, things become more dependent upon the details and specifics of each case and relationship.
Gill v. Shively, 320 So. 2d 415 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1975)
Malone v. Malone, 929 So. 2d 541 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2006)
Randall v. Randall, 56 So. 3d 817, 818 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2011)