Senior Associate, Heidi Fleming, explains:
Clients often ask me what will happen to their engagement ring on separation where they are unmarried and to their wedding rings on divorce.
Be it Tiffany, Cartier, Bvlgari or handcrafted in Hatton Garden, the law which deals with engagement rings is contained in the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970 which states:
“The gift of an engagement ring shall be presumed to be an absolute gift; this presumption may be rebutted by proving that the ring was given on the condition, express or implied, that it should be returned if the marriage did not take place for any reason.”
In short, unless there was an agreement to return the engagement ring if the wedding was cancelled, then the recipient is under no obligation to return the ring.
If, however, there was a condition (expressed or implied) that the ring would be returned if the engagement was broken off, the recipient would have to give the ring back. An example of this is evidence of a family heirloom that would be returned.
In divorce settlements, the situation is the same unless it can be demonstrated that it was expressly intended to be returned to the giver in the event of a relationship breaking down, a woman’s jewellery is hers to keep regardless of whether it was bought or gifted to her. However, this has not always been the case with history dictating wives returning all jewellery, in the event of their marriage ending and never truly owning it.
In divorce proceedings, the court will look at the value of all the assets to be divided between the couple in order to achieve a fair division. The greater the value of the jewellery as compared to the total overall value of the other assets, the more likely it is to be taken into account.
Financial disclosure by the parties to the divorce will involve the parties completing a financial statement, the Form E. They will list any personal belongings worth more than £500, including jewellery. The current value is usually interpreted as the reasonable resale value of the item as opposed to an insurance valuation.
If the court has reason to believe that missing jewellery has the potential to be re-discovered, incentives may be made to help locate the items otherwise the other party may be financially compensated with a greater share of the assets.
Consider a pre-nuptial or pre-civil partnership agreement, especially if family heirlooms or sentimental items are to be retained in the event of the relationship breaking down.