Who Keeps the Ring?

Janus Friis, the co-founder of Skype, gave his Danish pop star girlfriend Aura Dione (real name Maria Louise Joenson) a $471,942 engagement ring when he popped the question in July of 2013. Among the platinum ring’s many diamonds are a 1.76 carat center diamond, two pear-shaped blue diamonds weighing in at .91 carats, and 1.75 more carats of blue and pink diamonds. Once they were engaged, he also gave her an apartment in Copenhagen and cash gifts. Unfortunately, Friis later found out that his pop star love had been sleeping around with other men and called off the engagement.

On August 27, 2015, Friis filed a lawsuit against her to get everything back. He claims that the ring and the other gifts were conditioned upon them actually tying the knot. Since they never actually got married, this is a contract action. He hopes to receive at least 1 million dollars worth of gifts back. This jilted billionaire doesn’t think Miss Dione should reap the financial benefits of his love after her scandalous and engagement-wrecking actions.

This cautionary tale may make you take a second look at how much you actually want to spend on an engagement ring. And while we’re on the topic, here’s some more food for thought; an Emory University study released in September 2014 found that “marriage duration is inversely associated with spending on the engagement ring and wedding ceremony.” So, there’s actually a good reason not to go overboard with the engagement ring! The more the ring costs, the higher your chances for a divorce later on. This is contrary the popular belief that the bigger the ring, the better.

As divorce attorneys, we are often asked who gets to keep the ring after divorce. Here’s a quick rundown of the law regarding engagement rings in California:

An engagement ring in California is considered a “gift in contemplation of marriage” (Cal. Civ. Code §1590). Under the Code, if an engagement ring is given, and the marriage doesn’t happen because the receiver of the ring changes their mind or the parties mutually agree not to go through with it, the ring giver can recover the ring.

The California statutory scheme which characterizes property as either separate property (the sole property of one married person) or community property (to which the married parties each have a 50/50 interest). Separate property includes property that was owned by a person before marriage, and all property that was acquired after marriage by gift (Cal. Fam. Code §770.) This means that since the ring became the Wife’s property before marriage, then it will remain her separate property and is awarded to her upon divorce. An exception would be if the ring was a family heirloom, for example if the ring belonged to the husband’s grandparents and was passed down to him.

There are other property rules and issues that arise with wedding bands, engagement rings that are upgraded during the marriage, or other rings given after parties are married (at a vow renewal, for example). This may require a court to decide whether it was a gift, and in doing so, the court may have to examine the value of the ring in relation to the martial circumstances.

Determining the character of property at the end of a marriage can become extremely complicated. It may require litigation, and “tracing” of funds to determine what money was used to purchase the property. Property issues can be difficult to maneuver and understand without the assistance of qualified legal counsel. Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding your property rights in a divorce. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.


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