Should You Give Your Fiancé an Heirloom Engagement Ring?
The last thing on most people’s minds before proposing to the love of their life is whether the marriage is going to last. The sad truth is — some engagements do end prior to the marriage taking place, and even those couples who do make it down the aisle aren’t necessarily guaranteed to find their happily ever after, either. For this reason, many couples consider a prenup or postnup agreement. So, what happens when you’re ready to propose and you want to use a family heirloom ring? Should you? Do you need a prenup? What happens if one of you breaks off the engagement or you get divorced down the line?
Using a special family heirloom ring for your engagement is a beautiful gesture, but you should make sure you protect yourself in case things don’t work out.
Get a Prenup or Postnuptial Agreement
If you’ve already popped the question, consider talking to your fiancé about including the ring in a prenuptial agreement if you plan to have one drafted. Are you already married and things are perhaps getting a little rocky now? It’s technically not too late, as you could draft a postnuptial agreement that takes effect now, provided both parties agree to it and sign the document.
Breakups Before the Marriage
The general rule on engagement rings is that the giver of the ring is typically the one who owns it if a breakup should occur prior to the marriage taking place.
A recent Virginia Supreme Court Case, McGrath v. Dockendorf, provided clarification on what happens to an engagement ring when a couple breaks up before marriage. In this case, the court decided that the person who gave the ring is the one who technically owns it. This is based on the legal theory of “conditional gifts,” because the gift of a ring is conditional upon the marriage itself. If the marriage never takes place, the recipient should give the ring back.
In previous years, the courts often relied on the Virginia Heart Balm Act, which prohibits an ex-fiancé from filing a lawsuit against his or her now-ex based on the breakup of the engagement itself. Previously some courts felt the engagement ring fell under the Heart Balm Act, and therefore, the recipient owned the ring. Now, all Virginia courts recognize that Heart Balm Act doesn’t apply to conditional gifts like an engagement ring if the breakup occurs before the marriage takes place.
Breakups After the Marriage
If the marriage exists and now you are looking at a divorce, the courts often decide the engagement ring now belongs to the recipient, as the marriage did take place. When dividing property, courts will identify what property is separate, and not subject to asset division by the court, versus what is marital property, which the court will divide during a divorce. Courts often look at whether the property in question was received before or after marriage. In the case of an engagement ring, it is usually given before the marriage itself; therefore, it is the separate property of the receiver.
Hiring a Family Law Attorney
Every situation is unique, and may not fall within the usual guidelines. That’s why it’s important to retain a skilled Leesburg family law attorney who is familiar with the most up to date cases and trends in the courtroom. The team at Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy has experience in all aspects of family law and divorce matters, and can help protect your property, including precious family heirlooms, during a family law dispute. Contact our office at 703-997-4982 to schedule a consultation.