Divorce: who keeps the Engagement and Wedding rings?
August 8, 2014 9:14 AM   Subscribe

I am in the very early stages of separating from my husband. He wants me to give my engagement ring back to him when we divorce. I don't agree.

He thinks I should return my expensive engagement ring to him when we divorce, because, well, the marriage didn't work out and he bought me the ring.
I feel that it belongs to me, it was given to me and we've been married several years.
If I had broken off our engagement, I would certainly have returned the ring. But "ring etiquette" to me suggests that I have the 'right' to keep it now.

My mom kept her ring when she and my father divorced.
Charlotte kept her ring in Sex and the City. (I know it's not real life but..... it's something!)

What's the correct etiquette here? IS there an etiquette here?

All in all, the separation is amicable at this point - I'd just be interested to hear what the general consensus is amongst the Mefite Population to see if I'm being unrealistic here.

Late-30's, based in USA
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (41 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Would you rather be right or happy?
posted by aniola at 9:17 AM on August 8, 2014 [15 favorites]

I would think he might have a point if the ring were an heirloom from his family, but you mentioned "expensive" which suggests to me that he bought it for you. Emphasis on for you. It was a gift, I see no reason that you should feel obligated to return it.
posted by telegraph at 9:19 AM on August 8, 2014 [10 favorites]

If it's a family ring, give it back to him. If it isn't, include the value in the shared assets you are splitting up and negotiate for who keeps it or if you just sell it and split the money. I think, though, that an argument could easily be made that it was a gift he gave you and it is yours to keep. Either of these seems reasonable enough; giving it back to him doesn't seem as reasonable. (Again, unless it is a family heirloom, in which case you should give it back.)
posted by jeather at 9:21 AM on August 8, 2014 [22 favorites]

Its yours, keep it. Is he going to give back all the Christmas and birthday gifts from the years you were married too? No. You lived the marriage just as much as he did and that ring was given to you.
posted by ejazen at 9:21 AM on August 8, 2014 [16 favorites]

Interestingly enough, this is a oft-ruled-upon legal subject. I realize the subject is etiquette rather than legality, but reading legal rulings gives you a non-biased perspective on how to view the situation.

For what it's worth, since the engagement ring was given before marriage, I consider it a gift to you, and there's no reasonable way for him to ask for it back. He can certainly ask to buy it from you, but I see no reason to give it back to him.
posted by saeculorum at 9:23 AM on August 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

If the ring was given to you as a symbol of your marriage, and there is now no marriage, what is the point of keeping it?
posted by eas98 at 9:23 AM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Expense wasn't really at issue because the engagement ring wasn't very valuable, but I kept both my engagement and wedding rings post-divorce and everyone seemed to feel that was right and proper. My mother kept her extremely expensive engagement ring after her divorce as well, and everyone (even her total jerk of a hostile ex, who fought her over literally every other piece of mutual property) also thought it was right and proper.
posted by like_a_friend at 9:24 AM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

It might be worth looking into just how much resale value the ring actually has, too - many engagement rings, however expensive they are up front, don't actually hold nearly as much value as you'd think. He may feel differently about the ring if you discover that its resale value is a fraction of what was paid.
posted by Frowner at 9:24 AM on August 8, 2014 [17 favorites]

Presumably, the ring was given to you before you were legally married. Although I am not a lawyer, I believe the ring is yours if a judge had to decide. Only you can decide what it the "right" thing to do.

Fwiw, gifts given during the marriage are considered community assets.
posted by 724A at 9:25 AM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Before I got married, I wanted to add coverage to my renter's insurance policy for the engagement ring I bought for my wife.

The insurance company told me I had to add her name to the policy (it was in my name only), as once I had given it to her, it was not legally mine to insure. It is considered a gift. So my renter's policy was sort of odd for a while until we got married as it was in both of our names.

I imagine that this same legal principle is used so that husbands don't get engagement rings back once they divorce.

To address eas98's comment, the wedding ring is given as a symbol of the marriage; that may be easier to argue. The engagement ring symbolizes a promise to get married, which was fulfilled. However, my personal feeling is that an engagement ring, post-divorce, would bring back bad memories... if it didn't cost me so darn much, I would probably not want it back.
posted by tckma at 9:28 AM on August 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Small follow up to my previous answer, the solution we came up with was that my ex had her ring made into diamond earrings for our daughter. Win-win-win.
posted by 724A at 9:31 AM on August 8, 2014 [23 favorites]

Formally, this is a topic for negotiation. As far as etiquette, I think it rude to ask for a gift back.
posted by shothotbot at 9:33 AM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Datapoint: I've been divorced for nine years now. I kept my ring.

The truth is, I can barely stand to look at it. It's been sitting in a bank deposit box for years. It has no value to me anymore. I wouldn't sell it and I can't give it away. It's just this thing that reminds me of an unhappy time.

He never asked for it back, but I wish he had.
posted by mochapickle at 9:36 AM on August 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

If you really want to keep the ring and not feel guilty, get it valued, be shocked at how little your "expensive" ring is really worth, give him half the value or sell it and split the cash.

Etiquette wise as far as I've always seen it go you get to keep the ring unless it's a family ring then you give it back. Same with any other jewelry/presents he gave you, return anything that might be an heirloom. Decide if this is the hill you want to die on during the divorce, or if there is other things you feel more strongly about keeping.
posted by wwax at 9:38 AM on August 8, 2014 [8 favorites]

Expanding upon saeculorum's link; it's often ruled that the engagement ring is a gift to you (and a gift to you prior to being married). Some states might consider it a conditional gift, but as you're asking about this in the context of divorce I'll assume that means you got married. Congrats; it looks like legally the ring is likely yours.

Given that, I'd say only consider giving him the ring back if it's a family heirloom of some sort.

The only non-heirloom time I've heard of someone giving the ring back was when breaking off an engagement.
posted by nobeagle at 9:40 AM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's yours and you could do whatever you wanted with it by law and etiquette, but why would you want to keep it? Is it out of spite? Petulance? A desire to have a keepsake? None of those make that much sense, and it may be more valuable to you to give your ex one less thing to complain about. It might bring you more peace to just handle the situation with grace, even if it is tacky of him to ask for it back (unless it is an heirloom, like others have said).

By the way, if you think you are going to be able to sell it for any appreciable amount, you are about to be sorely disappointed.
posted by Willie0248 at 9:51 AM on August 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

I had a bit of similar crap a few years ago and a collegaue who sounded like he knew what he was talking about said the recipient for sure keeps the ring. I'm UK though and don't know anymore than that.
posted by tanktop at 10:00 AM on August 8, 2014

If your ring is diamond then it is probably not expensive any more. Diamonds, especially in the context of engagement rings, are extremely overvalued and have very little resell value.

Legal rulings and etiquette dictate this ring is probably yours--but if you're already arguing over the engagement ring then I doubt this will sway his opinion and you'd be best off turning this dispute over to your lawyers along with everything else. Keep in mind this is only going to add to the acrimony of the situation and at some point you'll need to make a decision about how far you want to take your arguments and how bitter you want things to be.
posted by schroedinger at 10:08 AM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

The rings are likely to have so much less value than your ex is ascribing to them. The resale values - as in, actual buy-back dollars offered by pawn shops or jewelers - are closer to one-tenth of the appraised values. As others have pointed out, the ring is yours legally unless it's a family heirloom but has very little, if not negative, value to you. So why not let your ex hang himself with his own rope? Don't argue and add to the acrimony... wait for him to state the value of the ring, agree wholeheartedly that it is a fair value, and offer it in exchange for something of that value that you actually want.
posted by rada at 10:13 AM on August 8, 2014 [11 favorites]

When I got divorced, things were more or less amicable. I was pretty motivated keep things as simple as possible to just GTFO. If he'd ever given me an engagement ring (could never hold down a goddamned job-could never afford it-should paid more attention to that :-/) and he asked for the ring back, I'd have been happy to be rid of it. Just one more tie to my old unhappy life that I could cut.

We had very little assets and I only used an attorney to draw up and file the paperwork. If you are not willing to give the ring back and are hoping it has some value to it (and it sounds like there won't be all that much from the above comments), maybe use it as a negotiating tool. It might have more "value" or use in negotiating the terms of the divorce (in terms of shared assets).

Maybe put some thought into why you want to keep it. Why it's important to you. And then see if you can find the best use for it.

Good luck.
posted by Beti at 10:19 AM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

The etiquette is that if the parties disagree, it is discussed with your attorneys as part of the negotiation.

Technically speaking, the engagement ring is yours once you follow through with the marriage (or possibly even before, depending on your state). However, is it separate property or marital property; and with either, how is it distributed in a divorce? - this is also question of state law. There is actually a lot of caselaw on the status of the ring after a broken engagement or a divorce. Here's a good overview.

Like everything else in a divorce, you either agree amicably, or you leave it to your lawyers and the state's laws.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:19 AM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Echoing above - if it was a family ring, then it would be kind of you to return it. If he bought this ring for you, keep it. Heck, if you bought him a gift before your marriage like a nice watch, are you expecting the nice watch back?

I'd keep it.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 10:31 AM on August 8, 2014

A gift is a gift. Are you asking for that shirt back? The books you bought him? The trip you took?

Unless it is a family heirloom.

Does he know that even if he got it back, at best he could only get 50% of what he payed? That's just how the diamond biz works.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:32 AM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Sorry to shout:)) This a true thing and a very practical matter.

He's being a dick about this because he's hurt and the ring is likely very expensive to purchase. But the ring's actual value? Probably the equivalent of a flat screen TV.

Legally and ethically, it was a gift, you get to keep it.

Have it appraised. Go from there.

Just letting you know that $10,000 ring is now worth likely >$1,000 - basically the value of the stone+metal.

Crazy, right?

There is nothing to argue about here, is my point. It's not the value of a winning lottery ticket no matter who ends up with it.

Get it appraised by taking it to several places to sell it. The value will be equivalent to a flat screen TV.

How hard are you willing to fight over a flat screen TV? That's the amount of effort you put it on this - no more, no less.

Good luck!!
posted by jbenben at 10:43 AM on August 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Why does he want it back?

Why do you want to keep it?

All in all, the separation is amicable at this point

While this disagreement make the divorce less amicable and if so are you ok with that? In short, how quickly do you want to be divorced from this man and will the ownership of this ring facilitate your timeline?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:55 AM on August 8, 2014

You need to let the lawyers handle this one. And if you're getting divorced without a lawyer, please get one. He should too.

As for the legalities, depends on the state. Often, a court will rule it is his property.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:24 AM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

As others have pointed out, this is actually a legal question the answer of which varies state-by-state.
posted by Brittanie at 11:25 AM on August 8, 2014

nthing legal question, varying from state-to-state. For shits and grins, have it appraised. Tell the jeweler that it's not for insurance, but as part of a property settlement. I agree with jbenben, it's not worth anything.

This is why my ring isn't made of diamonds. It's a SCAM!

What do you want it for? Will you have it redesigned into another piece of jewelry? Do you want to save it for a child? Frankly, if he's making a stink, I'd barter it for something actually useful. For example, "I'll give you the ring, but I get to keep the sofa."

If he seems really stuck on it, I'd cave to keep things amicable. But I'm also no fan of jewelry, especially if it just reminds me of something that didn't work out.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:35 AM on August 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

Legally: Things you owned before the marriage (including the ring) are yours. Things you acquired during the marriage, you share.

Ethically: I'd call him a cheap bastard, get the ring appraised by a jeweler, and write him a check for 1/2 the amount. Or offer him the ring back if he writes you a check for 1/2 the amount.
posted by amaire at 11:40 AM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

My opinion, based on nothing at all, is dependent on who requested the divorce. If it was you, then return the ring, if it was him, keep it.
posted by InkaLomax at 12:47 PM on August 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Great idea to use the ring as a bargaining chip since he thinks it is worth so much (and really, it is not worth hardly anything.)

Ha. Caveat Emptor, and all that.
posted by jbenben at 1:22 PM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have my engagement ring from the Time It Did Not Work Out. It just makes me sad to even think of it. I don't know about you - we are different people after all - but consider why you want to keep it.

I'd give it back. I miss my ex dearly but I still don't want that ring. It reminds me of what I lost and that makes me so sad. If I was glad for the separation it would remind me of something that I regretted, and I'd still be sad. I personally can find no situation where keeping an engagement ring would make me feel good. If he wants it, let it go to him.
posted by sockermom at 1:48 PM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

The engagement ring:
Legally yours. Ethically yours.
Keep it and reset it as a pendant necklace. I did this and I love it- not only is it a beautiful piece, it's a reaffirming statement of moving forward.
posted by susiswimmer at 2:29 PM on August 8, 2014

Ah, but where in the United States? The actual legal answer depends on the state. In my state, I am 100% positive that after marriage, the rings go to the person whose finger they were on (he keeps his, you keep yours). If the engagement dissolves without marriage, they go to the person who gave them to the other. Here's why: an engagement ring is given as a conditional gift, predicated on the person who received it marrying the person who gave it. The condition is satisfied when the marriage takes place, whether or not it works out down the road.

My ex-husband asked for the ring at the time of our divorce, because he was afraid I'd sell it. Damn right I'm going to sell it, I bought the stupid thing! I just need to find it first and maybe wait for it to get vintagey or something. He kept his though (which I think I also bought), and I didn't care.

Frankly, I think it's tacky for him to ask it back. What's he gonna do with it? Sell it? Geez, regift it? It spent so long on your finger that it became part of your hand, you probably have a tan line and even that double-indentation on your ring finger from where it sat so long.

Keep it. Reset it. Sell it. Lose it in your jewelry box. It's yours. If he wants it so bad, he can ask his lawyer to ask for it and get laughed at.
posted by mibo at 3:35 PM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Would you rather be right or happy?
That's terrible advice. It's no longer your job to compromise to make [soon-to-be]former spouse happy.
posted by Neekee at 3:57 PM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

If the ring is a family heirloom for him, the gracious thing to do is return it. If it was purchased for you, the gracious thing for HIM to do is let you keep it.
posted by ersatzkat at 3:59 PM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

It may be a marital asset. If he's still paying for it, return it. He may have paid a lot, but if you take it to a pawn shop, you'll get much, much less for it, so factor that into your thinking. Me, I'd return it, and use it as leverage to get a different concession.
posted by theora55 at 6:08 PM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seems like it's yours. It was a gift, and it has been years.
Does he want to be reimbursed for tux rental for the wedding too?

He's being petty, but sometimes things like this are a small price to pay to be rid of someone.

Just curious... are you planning to keep wearing the ring as is, have it modified so you can keep wearing it, or are you planning on selling it?
posted by blueberry at 7:45 PM on August 8, 2014

I would question why he wants it back (in your head, not to him.) The reason I ask this is because I once ended an 8 year relationship. For the most part it was amicable and we spoke and saw each other in the coming 3 years, having mutual friends. While living together, we had acquired a houseful of furniture, knickknacks and sundry items which stayed with me when he left. Frequently I asked him if he wanted to keep any of this and that he was welcome to it, he always said no and that he never wanted the hassle of owning much, which was fine. Meantime, I moved interstate and started seriously dating someone.

All of that was fine - until I told him I was engaged. He spat the dummy, told me my marriage would never work out and that it was inappropriate to have any contact with me now and he would never talk to me again. I said goodbye and thought that was that, until I received an email with an itemised list of everything he wanted back, everything that was beautiful, expensive or had any sentimental value at all - that he'd always insisted for 3 years, he'd never wanted. He actually didn't want any of that, he wanted to hurt me and he wanted me to prove that the shared stuff of our previous life mattered, so we could fight over it and have prolonged contact. What did I do?

I sent him a very nice email stating that he was welcome to all of it, with my blessing, plus anything else he could think of that he might like. Matter of fact, he could have it all as my fiancé and I each came with a houseful of things and needed to downsize. I was very accommodating and arranged times and dates and told him to go for it. Guess what happened? He never showed. Once he realised he couldn't get under my skin by forcing me to fight over measly possessions, he disappeared.

Is there a good chance your ex wants you to prove you care about him still, by the attachment you have to your ring? What's prompting this? I think you have a right to it, personally but sometimes people drag out separations like this because they can't let go. If you really want to let go, give it to him and be done with it. I swear to God, it will make you feel fantastic.
posted by Jubey at 3:52 AM on August 9, 2014 [10 favorites]

Please don't take legal advice from the internet.

The legal answer to this question is dependent on the laws of your state (including whether your state is a community property state). A local lawyer could probably give you the answer very easily, but we can't.

Ethically and practically, I agree with much of the above. You don't need to add to the list of things to fight about. Come up with a number or an item, give him the ring, ask for the number or the item in trade.
posted by freshwater at 8:59 AM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

He is wrong; you are right. An engagement ring is a gift, not a loan. He's just being a butt.
posted by Decani at 1:46 AM on August 10, 2014

« Older Why are Japanese names a secret?   |   Brilliant non-political commentary on the... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.