As we approach Valentine’s Day, are you planning on proposing? Have you and your partner chosen a ring yet? Did you just get that expensive ring to pop the question to your partner? Or did you receive one! Whichever it is, congratulations for taking your relationship to the next level! 

Now, as you sober after the excitement of the ring and appreciate its beauty, sentimental and monetary value, questions begin to form in your mind? Maybe it is the sheer financial or sentiment value of the ring, its beauty, the ring’s exorbitant price tag or that little heated argument that caused you to have second thoughts and or out of mere curiosity. 

Whatever your reason, you are wondering what will happen to an engagement or wedding ring if the relationship irretrievably breaks down. This does not necessarily mean you have doubts about your relationship, or you are materialistic, it is just the curious and or realistic part of you wondering who gets the engagement ring. After all, even Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie eventually split, right?

Do separating couples really actually fight over who gets the engagement ring?

Believe it or not, it is not unheard of that some separating couples fight over who will keep the engagement or wedding ring. Sometimes separating couples will engage in often expensive and litigious fights to determine who gets to keep the engagement or wedding ring.

Why do separating couples fight to keep their rings?

There are many reasons why people fight over the engagement and/or wedding ring. Each couple’s circumstances and details of their relationships are unique. Some fight because the engagement did not materialise to a marriage, the relationship was a short-term one, one of the party’s strongly believe they deserve and are entitled to keep the ring or because of the feeling of betrayal. There is a plethora of reasons, but it remains a fact that engagement and wedding rings can be an issue of dispute and expensive legal battles for separating couples in family law.

Who does the law state can keep the ring?

With respect to engagement rings the applicable rule of law will depend on the stage of the relationship and the facts surrounding the circumstances. Different laws apply for couples who are:

Firstly, engaged but are neither married nor in a de facto relationship;Secondly, engaged in a de facto relationship but not married; andThirdly, engaged, cohabited, and subsequently got married.

The New South Wales Supreme Court in the case of Papathanasopoulos v Vacopoulos confirmed the following applicable principles in relation to disputes relating to engagement rings following the termination of an engagement, regardless of whether the termination favoured both parties:

Firstly, a ring received in contemplation of marriage must be returned if the recipient terminates the engagement;Secondly, aperson who proposes to marry another but later terminates the engagement cannot demand the return of the ring, without legal justification such as the presence of violence;Thirdly, where there is an agreement to terminate the engagement, the recipient of the ring must return the engagement ring and both parties must return any other gifts to each other.

The above will generally apply to couples that were never in a de facto relationship nor marriage. The provisions of the Family Law Act 1975 generally apply only to de facto and marriage relationships. Therefore, following the breakdown of a marriage or de facto relationship, the Court will generally treat the ring as an asset of the relationship and the ring will form part of the asset pool in accordance with provisions of the Family Law Act 1975.

So... who gets the engagement ring?

In Australia, engagement rings are considered by law to be conditional gifts and if unmarried or not in a de facto relationship the general rule is that the engagement ring must be returned once the engagement is cancelled. Meanwhile, if you are in a de facto relationship or marriage the engagement ring and/ or wedding ring is generally treated as an asset of the relationship and forms part of the asset pool available for distribution.

Please note this is general information and not legal advice. The experienced family law team at New South Lawyers is available to assist with any specific questions or advice required.

New South Lawyers’ communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication.

To find out more, chat with a member of New South Lawyers' Family Law Team today.