Who Keeps The Engagement Ring?

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Equitable Distribution on Monday, October 15, 2012.

It’s been said that a diamond is a girl’s best friend. Mount it in a ring and hand it on bended knee and its value goes well beyond mere money. In divorce court the old adage takes on a new meaning. Few people know that the engagement ring tradition started for a specific legal purpose. As Slate.com notes:

[T]here was another factor in the surge of engagement ring sales-one that makes the ring’s role as collateral in the premarital economy more evident. 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, argues the legal scholar Margaret Brinig -noting, crucially, that ring sales began to rise a few years before the De Beers campaign. . . The “Breach of Promise” action had helped prevent what society feared would be rampant seduce-and-abandon scenarios; in its lieu, the pricey engagement ring would do the same.

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?

So where does that leave the engagement ring in divorce? Our statute requires a trial judge to set apart each spouse’s non-marital assets. The general rule which developed 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.