A Manhattan couple, Bradley Moss and Amy Bzura, made headlines earlier this month when Moss filed suit against Bzura in an attempt to get back the $125,000 engagement ring that he had presented her last November. It's not known why the engagement was broken, but we do know that the wedding was called off approximately one week before the scheduled date of October 29, 2016. Ms. Bzura, according to the suit, “has willfully and maliciously refused” to give back the ring, which he is suing for, or its cash value, along with interest and punitive damages.
Were this case being tried in NJ, it's likely that Bzura would have to return the ring. The engagement ring is often the source of heated personal and legal disputes, but the majority of American states do classify engagement rings as a conditional gift, contingent upon a legal marriage. In short, the ring only becomes the property of the recipient upon the occurrence of the marriage. However, once the marriage takes place, it becomes the permanent property of the recipient, regardless of whether the couple stays married. This is very important to understand, because it means that the ring is not considered marital property,, i.,e., subject to equitable distribution, in the event of a divorce.
The situation is fairly simple for those who are married, or have publicly declared their engagement. What makes things complicated is when a couple disagrees on whether they were ever engaged. Many couples nowadays choose to live together without getting married, and in some cases, one partner may present the other with a ring as a symbol of their commitment. It's essential in these cases to be clear about what the ring represents, especially if you are the gifter. Take, for example, the 2014 case of Torres v. Torres, in which the former boyfriend demanded that the girlfriend, return a $10,000 ring that he had given her in 2010. The plaintiff stated that he had asked her to marry him at the point of giving her the ring, but the defendant disputed this claim, citing that the plaintiff had given her the ring as an acknowledgement of what she meant to him as a long-term partner and the mother of his child.
While the courts can't know exactly what was said during the gifting of the ring, it was noted that there was no evidence of an upcoming wedding, except for a card from jeweler, which referred to the ring as an “engagement ring”. Due to the lack of evidence, the court ruled in favor of the defendant, and allowed her to keep the ring as a non-conditional gift. The lesson here is that one should always make one's intentions clear when gifting something as valuable as an engagement or commitment ring. For more information on New Jersey's laws on engagement rings and other gifts given before and during the marriage, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.