Dealing with high-asset divorce is an exhausting, emotional, and difficult challenge. The same stresses can even apply before marriage–when an engagement ends. In both cases, former partners must make difficult decisions regarding how to divide property and otherwise separate lives that were intimately connected.
Many divorcing or separating couples may wonder about the very symbol of the marriage union itself: the engagement ring. For example, in a high-profile story last year, a star NFL player made headlines when he sued to get the return of a $785,000 diamond engagement ring from his ex-fiancee.
Under Connecticut law, does the recipient get to keep the engagement ring, or does the giver have a claim to it? This question is of particular interest when the ring has sentimental value, as well as financial worth, such as a family heirloom.
Personal Property Gifts
Engagement rings (and wedding rings) are generally considered personal property. Personal property includes property belonging to a particular person (as opposed to marital property, which belongs to both spouses in a marriage). When one party gives personal property, intended as a gift to another party, Connecticut law generally holds that the gift cannot be revoked by the giver. Thus, the receiving party owns the gift and the giving party generally has no legal claim to have the gift returned.
One exception to the rule that gifts cannot be revoked is when the gift is conditional. A conditional gift is given with the expectation that a future action or event will occur, such as a wedding. Thus, where a ring is given upon the condition that there will be a marriage, and the marriage does not occur, the giver of the ring may have a legal claim to have the ring returned.
In the case of Thorndike v. Demirs, from 2007, a Connecticut court took up the question of whether an engagement ring should be returned to the donor once an engagement has been broken. Importantly, in framing the issue, the court noted that the question was whether the ring should be returned regardless of who was at fault for the end of the relationship.
The court ultimately held that once an engagement is broken off, the ring should be returned to the individual who gave it. This is known as the “no fault” approach to the issue. While the rule is different in other states, more and more jurisdictions are moving toward this model, because it offers a straight-forward rule that avoids delving into the more complex, emotional issues involved with the break-up.
Get Legal Help
It is vital that you contact a skilled Connecticut divorce lawyer if you have questions about how to deal with high-asset personal property such as wedding and engagement rings following the dissolution of a relationship. At the Greenberg & Krieger LLP, we are dedicated to helping you understand your rights and aggressively advocating on your behalf. We work with families throughout Connecticut, including lower Fairfield County and the Gold Coast. Contact our high-net worth divorce lawyers today to see how we can help.