Broken engagement, who gets the ring?

After a couple gets engaged, the thought of a separation is rarely considered. Regrettably, for some couples, time brings forth certain doubts related to the realities of marriage.  As a result it is not unusual to see a once loving couple turn into strangers, and begin to go their separate ways.  While their separation may be mentally exhausting due to the loss of a once good friend, it can begin to get even more tiresome after the parties begin to divide their personal property.  While some of this property may be easy to divide, one of the most difficult items often fought over is the engagement ring given its emotional tie to the relationship.

In New Jersey the law on engagement rings is black and white as it is considered a “conditional gift”.  In cases like these the engagement ring is considered a conditional gift from one person to another, with the condition for this gift being the marriage between the couple.  Once the marriage legally occurs the condition for the gift has been met and the ring becomes the other person’s property.

Cases regarding engagement rings have been argued before New Jersey Courts for decades and have been decided by the same two fundamental questions in each case: (1) has an engagement to marry been made between a couple and (2) has the couple legally been married.   Until both of these questions can be answered yes, the ownership of the engagement ring does not transfer from one owner to another. For example, in Albanese v. Idelicato, it was determined by the Court that without the fulfillment of marriage, the wedding ring remains the property of the original owner.  Here, the plaintiff, Michael Albanese, had given his fiancée, Lucille Indelicato, an engagement ring, a dinner ring and funds to purchase wedding supplies for a wedding dress during their engagement.  After the engagement had been terminated, Albanese sought the return of the two rings, as well as the funds he has provided for her to purchase her wedding dress.  It was determined based on the facts and circumstances that the dinner ring held no actual meaning and was not considered recoverable as a conditional gift.  In addition to this, the funds that were provided to Indelicato were shown to be spent on the dress and as a result, were also unattainable by Albanese.  However, when it came to the engagement ring, because there was no wedding or a legal marriage, the engagement ring was rightfully given back to Albanese.

While the Albanese Court decided an engagement ring was recoverable because the parties never married, once a marriage takes place and the engagement ends, New Jersey Courts hold differently.  In Winer v. Winer, the defendant, husband, claimed that the engagement ring he had given his wife should be considered part of equitable distribution due to the fact that it was part of their agreement to marry.  The courts however sided with the plaintiff and determined that the engagement ring was a conditional gift.  The basis for this decision was based on the fact that the condition of this gift was the marriage, making the engagement ring solely the wife’s property.

While the thought of separation is one that no engaged couple wants to think about, it is a reality in the world we live in.  If you are going through a dispute about property such as conditional gifts and/or other personal items as a result of a separation or divorce  contact this office so we can discuss your particular facts.

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