Rules of Engagement – Can I keep the ring?

Rules of Engagement - Can I keep the ring?

You have to be living under a rock (a rather large 12.5 carat rock, worth a reported USD$1.5 million) if you have not heard about Kourtney Kardashian’s engagement to Travis Barker. 

Deciding on who gets to keep the ring in the event of separation can be a heated issue, particularly in shorter marriages.  Not that I am suggesting this seemingly unusual coupling is doomed ……

In Australia, the answer to “Can I keep the ring?” is not that straight-forward.  It will depend on the individual circumstances of the case. 

If, at the time of separation, a couple were together for a while and they meet the definition of a de facto relationship, the ring will be treated as property of the relationship and divided in accordance with the Family Law Act 1975

If the couple are married at the time of separation, those same principles apply.

Factors which may determine the true owner of the ring

In a de facto or married situation, who gets the ring will depend on:

  • its value as against the value of the asset pool;
  • the length of the de facto relationship or marriage;
  • contributions made by each party during and, if relevant, after separation; and
  • each party’s ‘future needs’ after separation.

In longer relationships, the ring may not form part of the divisible asset pool.

A whirlwind engagement?

What if, at the time of separation, a couple does not meet the definition of a de facto relationship or they have not yet married (i.e. the classic ‘spontaneous’ or ‘whirlwind’ proposal)? 

In this situation, the engagement ring might be treated as a “conditional gift”; a gift made on the basis of a promise to get married.  In this case, the rules of engagement are:

  1. When the engagement is called off, the ring must be returned, unless there is a legal reason not to.
  2. Conversely, if the person giving the ring themselves does not fulfil the promise to marry, they cannot demand the return of the ring.
  3. If the parties ‘consciously uncouple’ (a la Gwyneth Paltrow) and agree to go their separate ways, the ring and other gifts are returned by each of the parties (or pawned, a la Mariah Carey, followed by threats of a damages claim).

This is one of the few areas of law where bad conduct might be relevant to the outcome and where an illicit affair or violence might give rise to a legal justification to keep the ring.

If you need advice on who keeps the ring, Partner, Jodylee Bartal can help.  Call or email Jodylee on 03 8602 2000 or jodylee@spfamilylawyers.com.au.

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