Who Gets the Engagement Ring in a Washington State Divorce?

Posted on June 07, 2024 04:44pm
Who Gets the Engagement Ring in a Washington State Divorce?

Understanding Community Property Laws

Washington adheres to the community property doctrine, meaning most assets and debts acquired during the marriage are considered jointly owned by both spouses. This applies to income, property acquired with marital funds, and even appreciation in value of separate property during the marriage. However, there are exceptions for certain types of property, including separate property.

Conditional gifts can qualify as separate property under Washington law. These are gifts given to one spouse with a specific condition attached. The key factor is proving the intent of the gift giver.

Is an Engagement Ring a Marital Asset?

No. An engagement ring is not a marital asset (or community property). Instead, it is considered a conditional gift.

Conditional gifts are classified as separate property. Therefore, they are not subject to division in a divorce. Establishing the reasoning behind gifting the asset is important because intent can help establish the conditions attached to the gift.

For instance, if the gift was clearly intended for only one spouse, and the condition doesn't involve using marital funds to fulfill it, then the courts will likely recognize it as separate property. This can apply to gifts received before or during the marriage, such as an inheritance left to only one spouse or a gift from a relative with a specific use in mind for the recipient spouse.

When it comes to engagement rings, the condition is that the receiving party marries the gift giver. Thus, in a divorce, the party who was given the ring met those conditions.

It's important to note that the burden of proof lies with the spouse claiming the gift as separate property. Documentation or clear evidence of the gift's intended recipient and any conditions attached can strengthen their case.

In situations where the intent is unclear, the courts might treat the gift as community property. Consulting with an attorney familiar with Washington family law is recommended for navigating the intricacies of separate property and conditional gifts during divorce proceedings.

Protecting Family Heirlooms

Family heirlooms are considered separate assets (see RCW § 26.16.010). However, as an engagement ring is given as a gift before marriage, it will most likely be classified as separate property and remain in the possession of the party who received the ring.

If you wish to protect your heirloom, you might consider drafting a pre- or postnuptial agreement. These agreements, drafted by legal counsel, allow couples to establish ownership rights over specific assets, including sentimental items like engagement rings or family heirlooms. By explicitly outlining the heirloom as your separate property within the agreement, you can prevent its inclusion in the community property division during a divorce.

Get answers to other questions you may have about asset division by reading our blog, “Property Division in Washington State FAQ.

What to Do with an Engagement Ring After Divorce

Deciding what to do with an engagement ring after a divorce can be a complex and emotional decision. The engagement ring may no longer hold the same meaning once a marriage comes to an end. However, it remains a valuable asset.

If you retain ownership of the ring after divorce, some of the practical options available for those looking to repurpose or part ways with their engagement ring include the following actions:

  • Sell the ring. One common choice is to sell the engagement ring. This option allows individuals to convert the ring into cash, which can be used to support new beginnings or invest in future endeavors. Jewelry owned for over a year can have long-term capital gains taxes applied to the sale; consult with a financial advisor to understand the tax implications and the best approach to selling an asset.
  • Repurpose the ring. Another alternative is repurposing the jewelry into a different piece. Transforming the engagement ring into a necklace, bracelet, or another form of jewelry can give it a new lease of life and significance.
  • Save it for your children. Some choose to keep the ring to pass down to their children or grandchildren as a family keepsake, preserving its history for future generations.

Deciding the destiny of an engagement ring post-divorce is deeply personal and varies significantly from individual to individual. It is important to weigh emotional and financial factors carefully and choose a path that offers peace and closure. Ultimately, the chosen action should support moving forward and starting a new chapter in life.

Experienced Property Division Lawyers

We recognize that the asset division process takes work, especially when dividing items (like an engagement ring) with so much fiscal and emotional value. Our attorneys can help you navigate the divorce and property division process. Contact us for more information.

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