In some situations, an engagement ring is viewed as a conditional gift. This is how the law is written in Ohio. The ring is not the same as a traditional gift, which becomes the recipient’s property immediately. It is only given under the condition that the two parties involved in the gifting process agree to be married. That’s why one person has to “pop the question” while offering the ring; that ring is only accepted as a gift if the answer is yes.
This distinction can become important if an engaged or married couple breaks up. Say that a hypothetical engaged pair does get married, five years go by, and then they get divorced. In an opposite-sex marriage, it could be that the wife asks for a divorce and the husband – who purchased the ring initially – says that he wants to get it back. His former spouse views that ring as a personal gift, making it a separate asset, so she doesn’t think she needs to return it. What happens here from a legal standpoint if the two can’t agree on an approach?
The condition is getting married
The conditional gift argument is sometimes used, claiming that a divorce violates the gift-giving condition of the ring’s presentation. However, the condition attached to the gift is not that the couple has to stay married forever. The person who is giving the ring is simply asking the other one if they will marry them. If they agree to do so, and then they do get married, the condition has been met. This means that the engagement ring becomes a separate asset – given before the marriage – because the person who received it owns it as they are entering into a legal union with their spouse.
With that said, a broken engagement would mean that a ring must be returned. If one person says yes and then changes their mind prior to the wedding, the condition of marriage has been violated and the person who bought the ring gets it back – likely so that they can return it for a refund.
Either way, it’s easy to see how complex a divorce case involving questions about separate v. marital property can become. Those involved in a marital split need to be sure they understand their legal options to better safeguard their property interests – and all of their other interests – as they move forward.