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Who keeps the engagement ring in a property division dispute?

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Maryland has equitable distribution laws in place for couples looking to divide assets in a divorce. But, the laws are not so straightforward when it comes to deciding who keeps the engagement ring in the event that the couple splits before marriage. Many men spend thousands of dollars on the perfect ring when it comes time to propose, so it would only seem fair that they would be able to keep it should the relationship go sour. While the ring went to the "innocent" person in the past, modern law has changed dramatically and property division is based on the situation.

The outcome depends on the situation as well as the state. For example, the ring may have been given as a gift, particularly if it was given on a birthday, Christmas, Valentine's Day or other holiday, and therefore should not be returned to the giver. There is also the fault approach, which means that the person who breaks off the engagement loses possession of the ring. In the no-fault situation, the ring is considered conditional and must be given back to the giver if the marriage does not occur. In many cases, the situation is reviewed on a case-by-case basis. In most cases, however, the no-fault approach is used.

These approaches are used for all gifts given in a non-marital relationship. However, there are some exceptions, such as if the gift giver is found to be mentally incompetent or if the recipient is considered to be a "gold digger" who uses manipulation to coerce a partner to buy the gifts.

Disputes over assets such as engagement rings can be quite bitter, since they hold sentimental value for the giver as well as the recipient. Because these disputes often occur outside of marriage, the laws can be complicated and it is therefore important to understand legal options.

Source: Huffington Post, "Engagement Ring Law and Other Romance-Based Litigation," Brad Reid, May 5, 2015

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