Unlike other pieces of jewelry, a wedding ring’s emotional value makes it a hot issue in many divorces. However, the law rarely considers emotions when it comes to property division, so your wedding and engagement rings typically are treated like any other property, even if they are family heirlooms. There are few clear-cut laws on this subject, so the result can vary between states and situations.
Length of the Marriage
Your ring’s importance may vary with the length of your marriage. Often, couples who divorce after a long-term marriage don’t argue over the ring, but couples who have been married only a short time may be more inclined to fight about who can keep the ring, especially if it was expensive to begin with. A spouse might be more likely to want his ring back after six months of marriage than he would be after many years. However, the length of the marriage rarely impacts the divorce court’s treatment of the ring.
Treatment as a Separate Asset
Typically, engagement and wedding rings are considered gifts from one spouse to the other, and gifts are usually considered to be the separate property of the receiving spouse, rather than marital property of both spouses. Since separate property is not usually subject to division by a divorce court, the value of your rings is not likely to be divided in your divorce.
If the ring has appreciated in value during your marriage, the appreciation might be divisible even if the ring itself is not. Of course, it’s unlikely the court will order the ring to be cut in half, so the ring may have to be sold, or other marital assets may be taken to balance out the value owed to the giving spouse. If you want to try to categorize your spouse’s ring or the appreciation as a marital asset, you probably will have to have the ring appraised to determine its value.
Sometimes, the wedding or engagement ring given from one spouse to another is a family heirloom that carries more sentimental value than monetary value. Unfortunately, your state may not consider the emotional value of the ring, so the ring will be treated the same whether or not it is an heirloom. However, some courts do treat heirlooms differently and will order the return of a ring that was a family heirloom rather than a purchased one.