Dear Cassie: I am going to propose to my girlfriend. I’m curious–what happens to the engagement ring if we don’t get married? Can I get it back?

Dear R.Z.:
Pursuant to New Jersey law, the gifting of an engagement ring is called a “conditional gift.” What this means is that the giving of the gift is conditioned on the fulfillment of a specific condition. In this case, the condition is marriage. Therefore, once the parties get married, the condition is fulfilled, and the recipient of the ring is solely entitled to keep it.

The inverse is also true: if the condition is not fulfilled (meaning the marriage does not take place), the person who gifted the ring is entitled to have it returned.

This analysis is different from what occurs in a divorce matter when dividing gifts of personal property made between spouses during their marriage. These gifts are called “interspousal gifts.” In that analysis, there is no condition to be fulfilled. Interspousal gifts are subject to equitable distribution. Interestingly, this rule applies to “upgraded” engagement rings purchased during the marriage. In other words, these “upgraded” engagement rings, acquired with marital funds during the marriage, are fair play in the division of assets in the divorce.

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Cassie Murphy is a divorce and family law Partner with the Law Offices of Paone, Zaleski & Murphy, with offices in Red Bank and Woodbridge.