Engagement and wedding rings are often worth far more to their owners than their resale value. These rings carry an emotional significance that can stay with a person for years, even after a divorce. For that reason, many people have a hard time letting go of the rings regardless of the state of their relationship, and worry about what will happen to them during a divorce.
Because Washington is a community property state, spouses may believe that the rings are also considered marital property, and are therefore subject to being divided in a divorce. This is especially true when the rings are worth a large amount of money. However, the rules in Washington generally consider the rings to be the separate property of the person who received them, and most parties will not have to return the rings in the event of a divorce.
In Washington State, an engagement ring is considered a conditional gift. This means that the ring is given with the understanding that the couple will marry—if they marry, the condition is fulfilled, and the receiver keeps the ring. If the couple breaks up, the condition was not fulfilled, and the person who gave the ring gets to have it back.
In the case of divorce, these conditional gifts are complete because the couple actually wed. As a result, the engagement ring is considered separate property, owned fully by the spouse who received it. Because the ring is separate property, it is not a part of the marital estate.
Exceptions to the Rule
In some situations, a court will order the wedding or engagement rings to be returned or sold with the profits divided between the spouses. These types of cases are relatively rare, and most people can safely assume that they will be able to keep their rings.
In the first situation, a person may have given his or her spouse a family heirloom. In this situation, the giver will likely have to prove that the ring is an heirloom, and prove that it was given with the understanding that it would be returned if the couple divorced. Often, prenuptial agreements are created to protect valuable assets like these.
Next, a judge may be more likely to consider an engagement ring to be marital or community property if the marriage was very short. When a couple is only married for a few months, a judge is more likely to order that the ring be returned.
Finally, a ring can be sold or dividing when the couple added value to it during the marriage. For example, if the ring was re-set or additional jewels were added, the extra value that the ring gained will be considered marital property. For example, if a man gave a woman a $3,000 engagement ring, then added $2,000 worth of stones to celebrate an anniversary, the added $2,000 value will be considered marital property. As a result, the woman may need to either give her former husband additional money or property in the divorce settlement, or sell the ring and divide the $2,000 with her ex. This same theory of added value applies if a ring appreciates significantly during the time of the marriage.
Valuing Marital Property
At Pacific Northwest Family Law, we understand that ending a relationship is never easy, especially if you are worried about losing valuable or sentimental property. Our knowledgeable Washington family law attorneys understand your situation, and will help you negotiate a divorce or separation agreement that allows you and your former partner to move forward with your lives.
If you would like more information about your rights and obligations, call Pacific Northwest Family Law today at 509-572-3700, and set up your initial consultation.