According to New Jersey law, an engagement ring is a "conditional gift", meaning that it can be revoked if the recipient fails to fulfill the attached condition, which in this case is marriage. This means that you have a legal right to demand the ring back if the engagement falls through. However, once you marry, the ring becomes the recipient's separate property and is not eligible for equitable distribution. This means that you cannot request the ring back, or ask to be awarded 50% of its value.
This is understandably a sensitive issue for spouses who spent tens of thousands, if not more, on rings that were given as a symbol of their love. The situation is even more painful if the recipient committed betrayals such as adultery or financial fraud. These actions certainly can have an impact on the distribution on your marital properties, but it has no effect on items that are classified as separate properties. There is some confusion over why engagement rings are considered "separate property", since they are the ultimate symbolic representation of a marriage. New Jersey courts, however, take a much more objective view when it comes to assets and liabilities. Separate properties are defined as properties that either spouse acquired before the marriage, or properties received during the marriage such as individual inheritances and third party gifts. Some separate properties can be commingled or transmuted into martial properties, but this is not the case with engagement rings. Keep in mind that the engagement ring was definitely given to your spouse before the marriage, which already makes it a separate property. By marrying you, your spouse fulfilled the only contractual obligation that was required in order to keep the ring.
As frustrating as this may be, your focus should be on the properties that are eligible for equitable distribution. Depending on how long you were married and what you acquired during that time, this can amount to a significant number of assets. While some assets can be divided equally, there are plenty of items that you will have to exchange, or sell in order to split the proceeds. You may also have to work out distribution arrangements on the earnings accrued by your retirement accounts during the course of your marriage. Another complicated matter is the division of commingled properties, which are properties that were once separate, but now contain mixed, or commingled funds.
Getting your fair share of these properties involves working with an experienced divorce attorney. While the money lost over the ring might tempt you to file on your own, the wrong type of divorce agreement could cost you dearly in the future. Whether you are headed to divorce court, or negotiating divorce terms with a mediator, please consider a free consultation with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca P.C. In addition to property division, our lawyers can advise you on custody, alimony, child support and all other issues relevant to your divorce.
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