The end of a marriage brings about many complex emotional and practical questions. The division of assets is among the most common and complicated steps in a divorce and forces many couples into long-drawn-out arguments over end tables and bedroom sets. Once it’s decided who gets the house and who gets the dog, along with all the other items you accumulated during your marriage, only one question remains: What do you do with your wedding ring after a divorce?
Deciding what to with a wedding ring after divorce requires some legal and emotional guidance. While no one who gets married expects to get divorced, if you do happen to find yourself in that position, you should be prepared and well-informed on your rights to avoid more time (and money!) spent arguing in a court of law.
We consulted with divorce attorney Stan Cohen to help you understand your options when it comes to what to do with your wedding ring post-divorce.
Meet the Expert
Stan Cohen is a New York City-based divorce attorney with over 25 years of experience. As a results-oriented negotiator and closer with a depth of experience in a wide array of fields, Cohen brings a positive spirit, a strong work ethic, and a sense of humor to all legal matters.
Divorce is a difficult decision, but by comparison, all the decisions after you reach that initial conclusion can and should be less emotionally taxing. A wedding ring may have symbolized your marriage, but in the end, what happens to it after your marriage is over is up to you. To help you decide what to do with your wedding ring after divorce, read on.
Who Gets the Wedding Ring After Divorce?
A wedding ring has a certain place in the law based on centuries of cultural practices. When a wedding is called off before marriage has occurred, certain states require that the engagement ring is returned to the original purchaser.
However, in California, Texas, and Washington, the ring is seen as an implied conditional gift, and the person who is “left at the altar” can choose to keep the ring in exchange for their troubles. In Montana, the legal system views wedding rings as an unconditional gift, meaning "not subject to any conditions." Basically, before a couple is actually married, the legality around who gets to keep the ring is largely dictated by what state you live in.
After you get married, the law is fairly clear. Cohen explains that wedding rings are viewed as an “inchoate,” or anticipatory, gift to an intended bride or groom. “Until the wedding, it remains the property of the donor,” says Cohen. “Once married the gift is ‘earned’ and ‘non-refundable.’ In a divorce, [the wedding ring is] usually seen as separate property in the divorce since it was given as a gift."
There are exceptions to every rule, but generally speaking, each partner gets to keep their respective rings.
While it might seem like a relief that the ring is the one material possession you won’t be arguing over in court, the real question is what you do with the ring once the papers are signed.
What to Do With Your Wedding Ring After Divorce
When it comes to your wedding ring, post-divorce, you have a few options. You can:
A divorce is a drastic change in your life. If you’re not ready to let go of this one last symbol of your marriage—something you likely wore every day—hang onto it for a while. You can keep it and pass it down to your children, or tuck it away in a drawer for a few years until you feel ready to give it away or give it a second life in the form of a new piece of jewelry.
Starting fresh after a previous marriage can be expensive, but that’s the price you pay for freedom. If lawyers and long court battles sucked your savings dry, sell the ring and use the money to kickstart this new chapter in your life. If you don’t need the cash, consider donating the money to a worthy cause. What once was a symbol of not-so-happy times can be turned into a symbol of hope and freedom for someone else.
If you love your wedding ring but not what it stands for, make it into something new. Today, it’s very common for people to turn their "divorce diamonds" into entirely new pieces of jewelry, like a necklace or earrings. Many people didn’t get to pick out their wedding ring in the first place, so by creating something new, they’re taking control of the narrative and writing their own ending to that chapter in their lives. “It’s an easy way to use it forever without any of the sentiment being part of the story,” says Cohen.
Etiquette and FAQs
When should someone sell their wedding ring if they don't have children or don't intend to pass it down?
“There are circumstances in divorce actions that might give pause to selling the ring while property is not yet divided,” shares Cohen. “So it’s more of a strategic reason versus strictly legal reason.”
In a messy divorce, everything is a bargaining chip. Your wedding ring can certainly be one of them, from a sentimental or monetary perspective. Keep those cards close to your chest until the game is called, just in case.
If the ring was an heirloom from their partner's family, could there be any legal recourse for keeping or selling it?
“If the ring given has some family significance, I’d advise assuring there is a provision in the pre-nuptial,” says Cohen. If there was no pre-nuptial agreement, the ring is seen as a gift and technically belongs to the person who wore it. At that point, it’s up to the owner to decide to return it or not. If it carries some sentimental value, the owner can decide to bargain the ring for something of similar or greater value in the divorce, hoping that the sentimental value of the ring will be worth more in the end to their ex-partner. Divorces can get ugly for this reason, which is why pre-nuptial agreements are strongly advised by lawyers, including Cohen.