What Happens to the Wedding Ring in Washington Divorces?
Spouses must distribute all property, including wedding rings, during a divorce. Here’s what you need to know about what happens to a wedding ring after a divorce in Washington State.
Washington is a community property state and equally divides all community property during a divorce while the separate property remains untouched. Wedding rings are considered gifts and are treated as separate property, remaining the recipient’s property after the finalized divorce. Wedding rings may be treated as community property if the ring is a family heirloom, the couple were married for a short period, or the ring appreciates in value during the marriage.
Community and Separate Property in Washington Divorces
Parties and Washington State must separate marital, or community, property during divorces. Washington State is a community property state, meaning community property is divided equally between the spouses either by the court or a marital settlement. Washington State distinguishes between community and separate property when determining a fair distribution of property.
The Revised Code of Washington 26.16.030 defines community property as any property the spouse acquired or owned separately before or during the marriage. All community property is subject to property division.
The RCW 26.26.010 defines separate property as any property or monetary rights owned by a spouse before the marriage or acquired as a gift, inheritance, or descent.
Rings as Separate Property & Conditional Gifts
Wedding rings are generally considered the separate property of the spouse who received the ring by Washington State courts. The ring is the receiving spouse’s separate property because the spouse who proposed gave the ring as a personal gift. Once the gift is offered and accepted, courts usually can not recover the gift, and most spouses do not need to return the ring.
According to the RCW, while courts consider wedding rings separate property, engagement rings are viewed as conditional gifts. A conditional gift is only considered a complete gift–and viewed as the recipient’s separate property–if the recipient fulfills the condition implicit within the gift. If the condition remains unfulfilled, the gift is the gifter’s separate property.
The implicit understanding of an engagement ring is that the couple will marry. If the couple marries, the recipient keeps the ring as their separate property. If the couple breaks up before marriage, the condition remains unfulfilled, the recipient must return the engagement ring to the gifter.
Wedding Rings as Community Property
Washington state courts may view wedding rings as community property and order the ring’s return in certain extraneous circumstances.
A court may order the recipient to return the ring if the wedding ring is a family heirloom. The gifter must prove the ring is an heirloom, and the parties understand the gift will return to the giver after a divorce.
A court may also order the ring’s return to the gift if the spouses were married for a short time. A court may order the return because the ring could be community property: the spouses were not together long enough to fulfill the condition of marriage.
Finally, a spouse may be entitled to an equal amount of the wedding ring’s value if the ring appreciates throughout the marriage. An appraiser may calculate the ring’s value, and if the ring increased in value while the spouses were married, a court might order the ring recipient to compensate the gifting spouse. The ring recipient may reimburse the spouse by selling the ring and dividing the profit or by taking out other marital assets the recipient may receive as part of the divorce settlement in exchange for the ring.