Kim Kardashian reportedly refused to give back her engagement ring to estranged husband, former basketball player, Kris Humphries. Is a spouse obligated to return an engagement ring after a divorce has been filed – whether the ring is worth $2mm or not?

engagement ring

Keeping Up with the Kardashians

A source close to the Kardashian situation reports that her husband Kris contends that the marriage was a total sham and that Kim only wed him for publicity so therefore she has no right to keep such an expensive gift.

This is the latest battle in the drawn-out Kardashian-Humphries divorce proceedings. The reality star filed for divorce from Humphries in October 2011 after just 72-days of marriage. He responded a month later by filing for an annulment on the basis of fraud and a legal separation.

Florida Engagement Rings

I’ve written about some of the history and law about engagement rings before. Until the 1930s, a woman jilted by her fiancé could sue for financial compensation for “damage” to her reputation under what was known as the “Breach of Promise to Marry” action.

As courts began to abolish such actions, diamond ring sales rose in response to a need for a symbol of financial commitment from the groom. Florida abolished the appropriately termed “heart balm statutes”. Heart balm statutes were laws allowing couples to sue each other to recover money for the alienation of affections and breaches of contract to marry.

As one court poetically noted:

[A] gift given by a man to a woman on condition that she embark on the sea of matrimony with him is no different from a gift based on the condition that the donee sail on any other sea. If, after receiving the provisional gift, the donee refuses to leave the harbor – if the anchor of contractual performance sticks in the sands of irresolution and procrastination – the gift must be restored to the donor. A fortiori would this be true when the donee not only refuses to sail with the donor, but, on the contrary, walks up the gangplank of another ship arm in arm with the donor’s rival?

After an engagement ring is given, and if the couple doesn’t marry, in New York the law deems a broken engagement as no one’s fault. Accordingly, the ring should be given back to the giver, with few exceptions. Most states have adopted that approach.

This is true in Florida. Lawsuits to recover an engagement ring by disappointed donors usually are resolved by courts looking to see if the engagement was terminated by the donee or by mutual consent of the parties. The rationale is that rings are given on the implied condition that a marriage ensue.

Once a marriage proposal is extended and accepted — once the promise is made — no matter what day of the year, that ring is no longer considered a gift. It’s a contract to enter into marriage.

The general rule in Florida is that an engagement ring given before the marriage, becomes a non-marital gift if the marriage is completed. If so, the ring becomes the non-marital property of the Wife.

If the engagement ring is viewed by the court as a non-marital asset, it is not subject to equitable distribution in divorce proceedings, and the spouse keeps it as their own.

Reality TV

Relying on real attorneys and not Judge Judy, both sides of the Kardashian case have accused each other in court and in the media of deliberately slowing down the divorce process, which has lasted five times longer than their marriage.

Recently, Kardashian’s attorney told the judge that her client is “handcuffed to Mr. Humphries” because his team is still not ready for trial. The estranged couple is set to return to court in mid-February to determine a trial date.

The Huffington Post article is here.