Clients going through a divorce often ask, “Who gets to keep the engagement ring? What about the jewelry my spouse gave me as a birthday gift last year?” This question comes as no surprise considering the money spent on these items, plus the sentimental value the jewelry might carry to one or both spouses.
Texas uses the “conditional-gift rule” which provides that a gift made in contemplation of marriage is conditional, and if the person receiving the ring (donee) breaches the marriage engagement then the property may be recovered by the person giving the ring (donor). In other words, Texas law looks to which party was at fault in the breakup to determine who gets the engagement ring.
To illustrate this point, I will use the fictional couple Suzy and Greg. Assume that Greg proposes to Suzy and presents her with a 3-carat diamond ring. After Suzy accepts his proposal, Greg places the ring on Suzy’s finger as a symbol of their agreement to marry. Two months later, Suzy decides that she is not ready to get married and breaks off the engagement. Greg demands that Suzy return the ring, but she refuses. Greg sues Suzy to recover the ring. Under this scenario, Greg will most likely succeed on getting the ring back because Suzy broke off the engagement at no fault of his.
Now let’s change the facts. Assume that Suzy learns that Greg cheated on her with her best friend. If Suzy shows the court that Greg was at fault in the dissolution of their engagement (i.e., proves he cheated and that is why she broke it off), then Greg is unlikely to succeed in his attempt to recover the ring.
But what if Suzy and Greg got married? Now, the conditional-gift rule no longer applies because the condition has been fulfilled. Therefore, the engagement ring is Suzy’s separate property since it is a gift she received before marriage.
Jewelry Acquired During Marriage
In general, property acquired by gift will be the separate property of the person receiving the gift. Therefore, any jewelry gifted to one spouse from the other will be the separate property of the receiving spouse. For example, if Suzy purchased a Rolex watch and gifted it to Greg for his birthday, then the watch is Greg’s separate property. Similarly, if Greg buys Suzy a new wedding ring to replace her old engagement ring on their 10th Wedding Anniversary, that ring will be Suzy’s separate property.
The above examples serve as a general answer to the common question of who will get the ring in the divorce. To properly answer this question as it applies to your case, an attorney must know when and how the item of jewelry was acquired in your specific case.
If you would like to speak to one of our attorneys, please call our office at 713-624-4100 or send us an email with your inquiry and someone will respond within 24 hours.