Who is Entitled to the Engagement Ring?

The ownership of an engagement ring depends upon whether an engagement is followed by a wedding.  Whatever happens, the ring will be non-marital property.

Termination of Engagement

In Benassi v. Back & Neck Pain Clinic, Inc., a former employee brought a sexual harassment claim against her former employer/fiancé.  In response, the former employer/fiancé filed a counterclaim for the return of a $24,000 engagement ring.  The Benassi Minnesota Court tackled the issue of “who is entitled to the engagement ring.”

Generally, engagement rings are considered to be conditional gifts given in contemplation of marriage.  If there is no marriage, there is no gift.  This may seem unfair, especially considering that facts surrounding the break-up of an engagement.  Considering Benassi, the woman claimed her fiancé exhibited “deeply disturbing, dangerous and highly insulting behavior.”  The Benassi woman alleged that she was not at fault for the break-up of her engagement thereby justifying her ability to keep the expensive engagement ring.  However, the Benassi Court held that since the Minnesota Legislature adopted a no-fault marriage dissolution law on the grounds of public policy, it is consistent to adopt a no-fault approach to the return of an engagement ring.  Despite his egregious behavior, the woman was not entitled to keep the engagement ring.

Dissolution of Marriage

Once the parties are married, Minnesota Courts treat an engagement ring in a different manner.  Although the parties are married, the engagement ring is not marital property.  Marriage satisfies the condition of the gift, and the woman is entitled to keep her engagement ring.  In Linderman v. Linderman, the husband argued that his wife’s engagement ring was his non-marital property because it was purchased with his non-marital income prior to marriage.  The Minnesota Court’s disagreed and held that the wife could keep the engagement ring because it was her non-marital property.  Under this reasoning, the husband gave his wife the ring in contemplation of the marriage—his wife accepted the ring—a marriage followed—therefore, his wife is entitled to keep the engagement ring as non-marital property (even if they later divorce).

Minnesota Family Law Attorneys

At Clausen & Hassan, our Minnesota Family Law Attorneys have experience with non-marital property and marital property issues. If you have questions about your specific situation, contact us today for your free consultation.

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