Traditionally, men ask women to marry them by buying them a diamond ring. The “rule” is that the diamond ring should be worth two months of the man’s salary. That is a lot of money.
If the parties do not get married or get married and get divorced, who gets that engagement ring under Illinois law?
Who Gets The Engagement Ring If The Parties Never Married?
If the engagement was broken off before the actual marriage occurred, either party can go to an Illinois court with an action for replevin.
Replevin is “a lawsuit to repossess personal property wrongfully taken or detained by the defendant” Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019)
“Whenever any goods or chattels have been wrongfully distrained, or otherwise wrongfully taken or are wrongfully detained, an action of replevin may be brought for the recovery of such goods or chattels, by the owner or person entitled to their possession.” 735 ILCS 5/19-101
Engagement rings are conditional gifts. “[A]n engagement ring is a gift conditional on the subsequent marriage of the parties” Vann v. Vehrs, 633 NE 2d 102 – Ill: Appellate Court, 2nd Dist. 1994
One party, literally, says “Will you marry me” and offers the ring as a gift in contemplation of the marriage.
“The law in Illinois appears established that a gift given in contemplation of marriage is deemed to be conditional on the subsequent marriage of the parties, and the party who fails to perform on the condition of the gift has no right to property acquired under such pretenses.” Harris v. Davis, 139 Ill. App. 3d 1046, 1048 (Ill. App. Ct. 1986) (citations omitted)
The next question is who removed the condition (marriage). Who broke off the engagement?
“In a replevin action involving an engagement ring, the correct inquiry in deciding which party is entitled to possession of the ring is which party’s act conclusively ended the engagement.” Liceaga v. Baez, 126 NE 3d 682 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 4th Div. 2019
It does not matter what happened in the relationship. All that matters is WHO decided that the parties will no longer be getting married.
“A court does not consider why an engagement ended, i.e. the underlying fault for the relationship’s breakdown, but only which party performed the act actually ending the engagement.” Liceaga v. Baez, 126 NE 3d 682 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 4th Div. 2019
If engagement ring-giver calls off the engagement, the engagement ring-receiver gets to keep the ring.
The engagement ring-receiver calls of the engagement, the engagement ring-giver gets the ring back.
If the party in possession of the engagement ring has sold the engagement ring, then replevin is no longer an option and a second count of conversion must be alleged.
“[A] conversion is any unauthorized act, which deprives a man of his property permanently or for an indefinite time” Union Stockyard & Transit Co. v. Mallory Son & Zimmerman Co., 157 Ill. 554 – 1895
The “unauthorized act” would be the sale of the engagement ring before completing the conditions related to the conditional gift (getting married).
At this point, the other party will have to pay for the value of the engagement ring.
“Generally[,] the measure of damages for conversion of personal property is the market value of the property at the time and place of conversion plus legal interest.” Jensen v. Chicago & Western Indiana RR Co., 419 NE 2d 578 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist. 1981
Proving the market value of the engagement ring sold will not be difficult. Luckily, most jewelers are happy to provide documentation as to the value of the engagement rings they have sold. An inherited ring’s market value may be more difficult to prove, however.
Who Gets The Engagement Ring If The Parties Did Marry?
If the parties did marry then the condition for the conditional gift (getting married) is completed and the above analysis is moot. If there is a dispute about who gets the engagement ring, the parties must be getting divorced. In an Illinois divorce, the division of assets will be determined by agreement or by a judge’s ruling.
Illinois divorce courts determine whether each item is either marital or non-marital.
Non-marital property stays with the spouse in control or possession of that property. “[T]he court shall assign each spouse’s non-marital property to that spouse.” 750 ILCS 5/503(d)
“[T]he following…is known as “non-marital property”:
(1) property acquired by gift, legacy or descent or property acquired in exchange for such property;
(6) property acquired before the marriage” 750 ILCS 5/503(a)
An engagement ring is both a gift and property acquired before marriage…and therefore non-marital property of the engagement ring-receiver.
“In dissolution proceedings, where the subject matter is property acquired prior to the marriage, the controlling presumption will be the common law presumption of gift which the donor spouse may rebut with clear, convincing and unmistakable evidence.” In re Marriage of Wojcicki, 440 NE 2d 1028 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist. 1982
Who Gets The Wedding Bands In An Illinois Divorce?
Wedding bands are usually less valuable and rarely a source of dispute. After all, who wants the other person’s wedding band?
There is no case law that determines who exactly gets a wedding band after a divorce so the question remains open.
Wedding bands are purchased with non-marital money. The wedding bands are then exchanged or put on by the bride and groom as a symbol of their bond. This looks a lot like a gift to the marriage and not to each individual person.
“[A] gift to the marriage…result[s] in marital property.” In re Marriage of Schmidt, 610 NE 2d 673 – Ill: Appellate Court, 4th Dist. 1993
If you are getting divorced in Illinois, engagement rings and wedding bands are probably one of your smaller assets. Immediately determine that they are non-marital so you can focus on the more pressing issues in your divorce case like parenting time, child support, maintenance and the division of actual marital assets.
To discuss those matters (and, maybe throw the engagement ring back into the mix) contact my Chicago, Illinois family law firm to speak with an experienced Chicago divorce attorney.