Is an Engagement Ring Considered Separate Property in FL?

Amidst the emotional impact of divorce, the fate of treasured possessions can become a contentious issue. Among these, the engagement ring, once a symbol of unwavering love, takes center stage, sparking questions about ownership and distribution. Is it considered separate property, or does it fall under the purview of marital assets, subject to equitable division?

Navigating these legalities requires an understanding of the nuanced distinctions between separate and marital property, acknowledging the impact of state-specific laws, and exploring established legal principles. Below, we discuss Florida's equitable distribution laws and the classification of engagement rings (as it relates to asset division).

Equitable Distribution of Marital Assets

Florida's divorce law operates on the principle of equitable distribution. This principle asserts that assets must first be classified as marital or non-marital before they can be distributed between the parties.

Assets accumulated during the course of the marriage fall under the category of marital assets, whereas non-marital assets are those that were either obtained before the marriage or received as an inheritance or a gift while married. Given that engagement rings are typically given before marriage, they are considered non-marital assets and are, therefore, not subject to distribution.

Engagement Rings as Pre-Marital Gifts

Generally, yes, engagement rings are considered separate property in Florida. As we mentioned, you should think of them as pre-marital gifts, distinct from the assets accumulated during the marriage. This means the recipient, usually the future spouse, gets to keep the ring, regardless of who initiated the divorce or the length of the marriage.

Here's why:

  • Conditional gift. Florida courts view engagement rings as conditional gifts, contingent on the marriage actually happening. When the "I dos" are exchanged, the condition is met, and the ring becomes the recipient's sole property.
  • Separate property. As pre-marital property, the ring falls outside the scope of equitable distribution, the principle guiding asset division in Florida divorces. Marital assets acquired during the marriage are divided fairly between the spouses, but separate property remains untouched.

Cases that Set Precedence

The case of Gill v. Shively, 320 So. 2d 415 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1975) established a significant precedent in Florida regarding the division of engagement rings in the event of a divorce. In this case, Charles A. Gill, the appellant, sought to recover an engagement ring from Dianne Doss Shively, the appellee. The court was tasked with deciding whether the gift of an engagement ring is absolute or conditional, hinging on the marriage actually taking place.

The court ruled that such gifts are not absolute but are made under the condition that marriage ensues. It's a ruling rooted in the understanding that an engagement ring is a symbol of the promise to marry. If the promise is broken, the gift does not fulfill its original purpose, and thus, the ring should be returned to the donor. The ruling in Gill v. Shively has been referenced in numerous subsequent cases, reinforcing the principle that engagement rings are conditional gifts, subject to return if the intended marriage does not occur.

What Happens When Your Current Engagement Ring Is an Upgrade?

An "upgraded engagement" refers to the act of acquiring a new or enhanced engagement ring after the initial proposal. There are several reasons why couples might choose to do this.

Some couples choose an upgrade simply because their taste in jewelry has changed over time. Styles and preferences evolve, and a ring chosen years ago may no longer reflect the wearer's current aesthetic. Additionally, budgets and lifestyles can change, allowing couples to invest in a ring that better reflects their current financial standing.

Another common reason for an upgrade is to celebrate a major life event or milestone within the relationship. This could be an anniversary, the birth of a child, or simply a desire to reaffirm their commitment to each other.

Whatever the reason for upgrading an engagement ring, you may wonder whether an upgraded ring is still considered a conditional gift or separate property. Well, gifts given between spouses during a marriage are considered marital assets and are subject to division, and as the ring wasn’t given upon the condition of getting married but as an unconditional gift, the ring isn’t protected as a conditional gift.

The Role of Prenuptial Agreements

While the general rule is that engagement rings are considered pre-marital gifts, a prenuptial agreement could potentially change this. A prenuptial agreement is a legal contract signed prior to marriage, specifying how assets would be divided if the marriage were to end in divorce. If such an agreement exists and specifies a different arrangement for the engagement ring, then the terms of that agreement would prevail.

Get Legal Counsel

At Richard A. Heller, P.A., our attorneys have experience handling divorce cases and the related property division process. Recognizing that every case is unique, we approach each situation with a fresh perspective, crafting a tailored strategy that aligns with the client's specific circumstances and goals.

With our guidance, clients can make informed decisions about the division of assets and liabilities, as well as understand how the law might impact whether they keep certain assets. Call (407) 501-4052 to schedule a time to discuss your case with our team.
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