Ending a marriage requires that a couple work out the answers to many questions – some are emotional, some are practical, but many are both. Because a couple’s engagement and wedding rings carry so much symbolic weight, figuring out what to do with them during a divorce may feel like a particularly emotionally fraught issue.
Ring Ownership Under California Law
In California, wedding and engagement rings are generally seen as separate property rather than community property. As a community property state, any property deemed to be community property is presumed to be equally owned by both spouses and will be split equally during a divorce. Separate property, on the other hand, is considered to be owned by one spouse as an individual and not subject to property division. Typically, assets that were acquired prior to marriage are considered separate property.
Before the Wedding
Prior to the wedding, engagement and wedding rings are typically considered to be the separate property of the person who purchased them.
Engagement rings are considered conditional gifts in California. California Civil Code 1590 stipulates that if one party “makes a gift of money or property” to another party assuming that they will be married, that gift – or “such part of its value as may, under all of the circumstances of the case, be found by a court or jury to be just” – must be returned to the giver if the recipient decides not to go through with the marriage or they decide mutually to call off the wedding.
In other words, if your fiancé gives you a ring assuming you’ll marry them, but you either call off the wedding or you both mutually decide to go your separate ways, they are entitled to have the ring back. Ostensibly, if your fiancé in this situation were to call off the wedding, then you would be entitled to keep the ring.
After the Wedding
After the marriage commences, however, the engagement ring’s ownership transfers to the recipient. While there are no specific laws in California that govern the ownership of wedding rings, typically the court considers these rings to be separate property and grants ownership of the ring to the recipient during a divorce.
There are, however, a couple of notable exceptions. If, for instance, your engagement or wedding ring was a family heirloom, it is possible that California courts would see that ring as an heirloom rather than a gift and might then award ownership to the person in whose family it belonged. Thus, if your spouse proposed to you with an heirloom ring from their grandmother, the court would likely consider that ring to be your spouse’s separate property.
Another exception could arise if you and your spouse decided to “upgrade” your ring during the course of your marriage. While gifts given during a marriage between spouses are typically deemed separate property, a piece of jewelry that represents significant assets might be determined by the court to be community property and therefore subject to division.
Property division during divorce can be an extremely complicated and stressful endeavor. At Gille Kaye Law Group, PC, our seasoned divorce attorneys are committed to helping our clients navigate their divorce proceedings as smoothly as possible while always endeavoring to protect their best interests.
If you have questions about property division during divorce, contact us online or call us at (626) 340-0955 to schedule a consultation.