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Vikki on Who Gets the Engagement Ring

After the marriage doesn't work out, who gets to keep the bling? Vikki lays down all the rules.

By Vikki Ziegler

Wedding rings. Gorgeous, but not a sure thing to keep forever.

Divorce is the last thing on your mind when spending serious cash on major bling. Although diamonds are supposed to be forever, many guys want to take that sparkly friend away when they decide that a divorce is on the cusp. The key element in the court's eyes is whether you actually walk down the aisle or not. Courts are quite clear about what happens to the engagement ring in the event of divorce but not as much as it relates to a broken engagement. And so it is in the majority of divorces across America.

Many courts deem that the engagement ring in the context of a marriage, as a gift and as such, should remain with the recipient even though the marriage and the meaning of the ring is no longer pertinent. However, there can be a few exceptions to the rule in the case of family heirlooms, which are subject to possible division, a return with the donor (person giving the ring) receiving replacement value or at least a credit for half of the actual value because of its unique, one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable quality. Even in states where engagement rings are considered pre-marriage gifts, they may be returned to the husband's family if they are family heirlooms from, for example, his great grandmother or great aunt.

Another issue for discussion is if a donor upgrades a ring during the marriage which increases the value of the ring post-wedding. This may make the ring subject to distribution or at least give the donor a claim to a credit in the divorce as well. This is because marital funds were infused into an asset after the marriage where the donor could argue he is entitled to one half of the upgrade investment or even value depending on the circumstances surrounding the money used to upgrade the ring and its current value at the time of divorce.

Now, if you do not actually walk down the aisle... This is how the courts address what to do with an engagement ring after a decision NOT to marry, which encompass two major rules: First, the majority rule states that fault determines entitlement to a ring. So, men -- if you cheated during the engagement and she didn't wed, the ring is most likely hers. Conversely, the minority rule says that fault in the breakup should not be considered. Rather, the giving of the ring is viewed as bestowing a conditional gift upon the donee (the person receiving the ring) -- the condition is marriage. When that condition fails, the donor is entitled to a return of the ring (even in cases of infidelity). Second, most other states, such as Texas, have upheld that an engagement ring is an absolute pre-marriage gift. Therefore, it is not subject to division because it is separate property of the wife. So guys are out of luck.

It's crucial to understand the laws in the state you reside to understand how fault plays into the return of a ring or not. Love is supposed to last forever and I hope it does for most. The reality is it's a tough pill to swallow and everyone should know the law before getting engaged!

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