What Happens to My Engagement Ring in a Divorce?

By Bob Matteucci

An engagement ring or wedding band is more than a simple piece of jewelry. It is a symbol and a promise. It holds sentimental value, but it also may be worth a decent chunk of change since the average cost of a ring is around $6,000

No matter how much a particular ring is worth, it may spark a disagreement between former partners during a divorce. Attorney Bob Matteucci of Matteucci Family Law helps couples in New Mexico reach amicable agreements over the future of their engagement rings, wedding bands, and other assets.

New Mexico Courts Say Engagement Rings Are Gifts

New Mexico is one of several states whose Supreme Court has heard a case involving the return of an engagement ring. In 1994, in the case Vigil v. Haber, the high court ruled that engagement rings are conditional gifts. The condition to be met is marriage. If an engaged couple breaks up before their marriage occurs, the ring goes back to the person who purchased it, regardless of whose fault it is that the wedding is no longer occurring. 

In closing, the Court noted:

Of course, this holding has no application to those situations in which the parties have agreed in advance to the final disposition of engagement gifts; those gifts, by agreement, are not conditioned upon marriage. Likewise, this holding has no bearing on post-breakup settlement agreements.

Let’s break this down a bit. 

  • The Court says a couple can agree to do something different with their engagement gifts if they want to. Nobody is going to force a couple that breaks up to return rings or other engagement gifts to the gift-givers. 
  • And if the couple has signed a “post-breakup settlement agreement,” aka a prenuptial agreement, that controls what happens if a breakup occurs before or after marriage.

All of this is what can happen before a couple walks down the aisle. 

Is an Engagement Ring Still Considered a Gift if the Couple Gets Divorced? 

Vigil v. Haber covers what happens to engagement rings and other gifts before the wedding. What happens to engagement rings, wedding bands, and other gifts after a couple gets hitched and then splits up is not directly addressed in the New Mexico statutes or any published case law. 

Most of the couples Attorney Matteucci counsels consider engagement rings and other gifts given to a former partner to be the recipient’s separate property. When they divorce, each person walks away with the rings they were given by their partner to symbolize their engagement and marriage. 

However, if a divorcing couple wants to pick a fight over an engagement ring, that is their prerogative. New Mexico is a community property state, which means that any asset acquired during the marriage or debt incurred by a couple after they are wed is legally considered the equal property of both spouses. At divorce, these assets and debts must be divided up. Some people argue that engagement rings or wedding bands purchased with shared funds, or upgraded after a few years of marriage, should be treated like community property and accounted for when the couple’s assets are split up. 

Serving Families with Dignity & Compassion 

When all that is left of a relationship is the ring that used to symbolize it, Attorney Bob Matteucci can help you and your ex find a way to move forward. Please contact the Matteucci Family Law Firm today to schedule a meeting. 

About the Author
Bob Matteucci is a board certified family law specialist, with a statewide practice in the area of divorce and family law.