What happens to jewellery when the relationship does not last?
One needs to consider the stage of the relationship i.e. dating, engaged, recently married and long-term marriage. There are the legal ownership issues which we at Jack Friedman believe may be completely different to the moral and ethical issues surrounding jewellery and engagement rings when a relationship ends.
An engagement ring prior to marriage
The legal situation
In law once a gift such as an engagement ring or jewellery is given the ownership passes. Therefore the lady who receives the engagement ring or jewellery is now the owner no matter what happens to the relationship.
The Jack Friedman moral principle
At Jack Friedman, we believe the following applies in the event of an engagement that does not make it to the wedding. If the man chooses to break off the engagement we believe that the engagement ring should be kept by the lady that received the engagement ring. However, if the lady that received the engagement ring chooses to break off the relationship, we believe morally this engagement ring should be returned to the man. This applies even though legally she is the owner of this item.
Once married and getting divorced
What happens to the engagement ring and other jewellery gifts that were given throughout the marriage?
At Jack Friedman, we believe that in most situations the legal aspect of ownership applies. The nature of the pre-nuptial contract will change the legal answer. However in most marriages the person who received the gift is now the owner of the gift. The value of the jewellery gifts given during the course of the marriage should not form part of the communal Estate for divorce.
The Jack Friedman moral principle
As these jewellery gifts were gifted as an expression of love, and therefore the person who received those gifts should keep them and should not be brought to account in terms of dividing the assets built up during the course of the marriage. However, legally depending on the marriage agreement, whether the couple is married community of property, ANC or antenuptial contract with an accrual or without an accrual, different legal aspects would apply. At Jack Friedman, we do not believe this is morally correct and the jewellery gift is the property of the person who received it.
Family Heirloom Jewellery
There are exceptional circumstances where jewellery has been handed down from older generations. At Jack Friedman, we believe the legal situation should not apply and there is a moral way of dealing with this type of situation.
For example, a man proposes with a diamond engagement ring where the diamond was handed down from a mother or grandmother or even great-grandmother. This is a family heirloom and this diamond should remain in the family. We believe the following aspects need to be considered, does the couple have children and more specifically are their daughters? We believe jewellery that has been passed down as an heirloom should be passed to the daughters of that couple. This jewellery should not be taken into account in terms of determining the value of the couple’s communal Estate to be divided on divorce. There needs to be some agreement that the item of jewellery should not be sold unless absolutely necessary, for financial reasons and should be handed down in the family for future generations. As this would have been the wishes of the original owner ie the grandmother or great-grandmother or great-great-grandmother that originally received this item of jewellery.
What if there are no children?
Once again at Jack Friedman, we believe that the legal situation should not apply and the following should be applied. If that item of jewellery or engagement ring came from the husband’s family the lady that received it and has no children to pass that item of jewellery to, this item should go back to the husband’s family. However, there should be financial compensation to the lady who received this jewellery or engagement ring. We at Jack Friedman would be happy to value the jewellery piece or engagement ring in terms of what is a fair replacement value of the jewellery and that value should be offered as compensation to the lady who gives up the heirloom jewellery.
In summary, engagement rings or jewellery gifts transfer ownership to the person who received the gift which was a gift of love is now the owner. The owner of the jewellery gift can do with it as they wish unless there are exceptional circumstances as mentioned above. When these circumstances are prior to marriage, it depends on who terminated the relationship and in the event of heirloom jewellery that was handed down and will no longer remain with the family’s offspring.
While Jack Friedman’s opinion is not the legal practice we believe this to be ethically and morally the correct way to deal with jewellery gifts or engagement rings in the unfortunate situation where a relationship or marriage terminates. We would be happy to engage with anyone who has similar or alternative views on this subject.