Who owns the engagement ring after a couple splits?
“I’d like to take back the engagement ring I gave you,” my ex-husband said recently. Huh? Did he mean my engagement ring?
No, I didn’t wear the ring anymore. I kept it in a drawer in my bedroom dresser along with a lot of other things I spent very little time ever thinking about: costume jewelry from my partying twenties, old postcards purchased while traveling in far-off places, notebooks full of journal entries — from my college years.
I thought of my engagement ring along the same lines: it was a part of my history, but it wasn’t part of my present. My ex-husband and I were separated for over five years until we recently finalized our divorce.
So yes, the ring had importance, signifying my ex-husband’s proposal to marry me. But our marriage had ended. So why did I still cling to the ring?
It was valuable — far more than any of those other things in my dresser drawer. The ring had sentimental value and let’s face it — it’s a gorgeous, carat diamond set in platinum — it’s worth a lot of money.
However, I had no plans to sell it. Maybe I thought I could save it for one of my sons to give to the woman he’d ask to marry him in the future. But wouldn’t that be bad juju? My marriage to my sons’ father hadn’t worked out.
So there I was, hoarding this “cursed” talisman in my dresser drawer in a kind of not-here-nor-there state. In limbo. In purgatory. In wait.
But for what?
Had my ex not asked for the ring back, I don’t know what I would have done with it. It would have continued to sit there in that drawer for all eternity.
But that my ex had now asked for it back — this bugged me, too.
I guess I just thought the ring was mine to keep for whatever reason. Whatever I ultimately decided to do with it, it was my decision to make. It was a question of principle. I simply saw myself as the owner of the engagement ring — even though my ex and I were now divorced.
Which brings me to the central question of this story: who owns the engagement ring after a divorce? The man who gave it to the woman when he asked her to marry him — or the woman who used to wear it on her finger?
Why my ex wanted my engagement ring back.
First off, please forgive me for speaking in such heteronormative terms. I am aware that I am discussing cishet men giving rings to cishet women. But as a cishet woman who used to be married to a cishet man, this is what I know. So these are the terms I’ll speak in.
But I should also explain why my ex wanted my engagement ring back. He wanted to sell it to pay for a new engagement ring for his current girlfriend.
It wasn’t news to me that my ex was planning to ask her to marry him. We talk about stuff like this. In fact, I was the one who gave him the advice on how to meet her.
I feel no sense of ownership over my ex-husband — no jealousy that he has a new partner. I want him to get remarried. When he’s happy, our kids are, too.
I’ve already seen his mood improve as a result of dating his current girlfriend. He’s taken on more of the parenting duties. So yeah, I have my own selfish reasons for wanting him to get remarried. So why should it bother me that he asked for my ring back to buy her one?
Because I felt like I owned the engagement ring. But since our marriage was over, was it still mine?
Who owns the engagement ring after a divorce?
The question of who owns the engagement ring after a divorce is a valid one — so important there are laws about the matter. Who the law sides with — the man or the woman — depends largely on the state a couple was married in.
Some states dictate the post-divorce ownership of the engagement ring is based on who’s at fault for the dissolution of the marriage. If you caused the divorce, you’re not entitled to keep the ring.
Other states make the decision based on the “conditional gift” rule. The engagement ring is a gift given on the condition of marriage.
If the marriage never happens, the ring goes back to the ring-bearer. If the marriage does happen, the receiver (typically the woman) keeps it.
Other states view the engagement ring as an absolute gift. Regardless if the marriage ends in divorce, or never even happens, still the receiver gets to keep the ring.
What about my case? My ex-husband and I were married and divorced in California.
I had a legal right to keep the ring.
In a divorce case in the state of California, engagement rings are considered separate property. This means the engagement ring is owned by the person who received it as a gift — even after a divorce.
That would make me the owner of my engagement ring. So why did I give it back to my ex?
I gave it back to him because I decided it was better to keep our relationship amicable. Sure, the court would have sided with me had I put my foot down. But what would have been the consequences of bringing the court into the mix?
Yes, I might have been able to legally prove the engagement ring was rightfully mine to keep but this would have destroyed my relationship with my ex.
That, in turn, would have affected our children. As it is, I feel like I’ve robbed my sons of having an intact family. I broke up the family.
As such, I’ve done everything in my power to maintain a friendly relationship with my ex so we can still hang out together around the kids. And I’ve accomplished this.
My son recently asked to arrange a picnic between my partner, myself, my ex, and his new fiancée. We’re planning that. I wouldn’t have been able to do this if my relationship with my ex was sour.
So when he asked for the ring back to cash it in to purchase a new one for his fiancée, I agreed. It’s more important to me to just keep getting along with my children’s father. Yes, even if the ring was legally mine to keep.
Some people will say I’m a wimp.
And still, some people will claim I should have stood up more for myself. I should have never handed over the ring. Having done so means I’m a wimp. But in the end, I ask why I should have fought to keep it?
I lost a ring but gained the ability to keep our divorced family calm and happy. Besides, why live in the past when I’m happy with my new partner? It’s best to close the book on this chapter of my life. It’s best to move on.
My engagement ring no longer lives in my dresser drawer. It has a new life somewhere else.
And I feel a little lighter.
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