Conditional Gifts - Engagement and Wedding Rings

At the conclusion of a marriage, the New Jersey court will determine an equitable distribution of any marital property. Property that is marital is typically the property that was acquired during the marriage. Any property that was acquired before the marriage (or sometimes during the marriage under special circumstances) is typically separate property and is not subject to distribution in the divorce. Gifts given from one spouse to another during the marriage are generally considered marital property and will be divided up at the final divorce hearing. Engagement rings, however, have a special place in this calculation.

Engagement rings are what are known as “conditional gifts.” That is to say, the gift of the engagement ring is conditioned on the two people getting married. For this reason, if the engagement is broken off before the wedding happens, it may be possible for the person who gave the engagement ring to force the recipient to return the ring. However, once the wedding takes place, the “condition” has been fulfilled. Once the condition has been fulfilled, the engagement ring becomes the property of the wife. Not only that, the engagement ring is considered completely separate property. This means that the husband will not be entitled to the return of the ring in the event the marriage disintegrates. Not only that, the husband is not even entitled to half the value of the ring in the property distribution.

This was well-illustrated in the case of Winer v. Winer, 241 N.J. Super 510 (1990). In that case, the husband gave the wife a four-carat engagement ring. The ring had a large degree of sentimental value for the husband, as it had been left to him by his mother. After the marriage took place, the ring was seldom worn, and spent most of its time in a safe deposit box. When the parties divorced, the husband asked the court to award the ring to him. However, because the ring was considered a conditional gift, and the condition was fulfilled once the parties were married, the ring was the separate property of the wife. The husband was unsuccessful in his attempt to have the ring returned to him.

Property distribution in divorce can be complicated, and you need to discuss your case with an attorney who has experience in navigating this area of the law. Call us today at (732) 529-6937 to talk about your case and the possible outcomes of the property distribution in your case.

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