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Who Gets Wedding Rings and Family Heirlooms in a Divorce?

Posted on in Divorce

Farmington Hills divorce attorney property divisionThe wedding ring handed down from your husband’s grandmother. The antiques from your wife’s family that were inherited during your marriage. Expensive purses and jewelry given by a husband’s mother to his wife as Christmas gifts. These are all examples of items that have both sentimental and financial value which can become bones of contention during a divorce. How do Michigan courts typically divide such items?

Engagement Rings

Michigan courts have ruled that if a couple breaks off their engagement prior to the wedding ceremony, the giver (purchaser) gets the ring back. Fault is not a factor here; that is, it does not matter who broke off the engagement or if one person was more to blame than the other.

However, once a couple is legally wed, the recipient gets to keep the engagement ring, as it is considered a permanent gift at that point.

Wedding Rings, Anniversary Rings, Other Jewelry

Rings--along with other jewelry, watches, clothes, shoes, and purses--are considered personal items which usually stay with the person who uses/wears them. 

Any item given by one spouse as a gift to the other spouse, such as a wedding ring or anniversary ring, is considered the sole property of the recipient, not marital property. Likewise, gifts given by one spouse’s parents (or anyone else, for that matter) to the other spouse are considered the separate property of the recipient.

Inherited Items and Family Heirlooms

The equitable distribution of inherited items is a somewhat more complicated issue.

Inherited items are gifts. To the extent that an inherited item is intended to be used by just one spouse, that item is generally considered that person’s separate property. An example would be a $10,000 men’s watch inherited by a husband from his own parents or other relatives. 

In addition, if inherited assets, such as real estate or investment accounts, are kept separate from marital assets, then the court would generally consider those to be the separate property of the person who inherited them.

However, if inherited assets are commingled with marital assets, then those assets become marital property to be equitably divided at the time of a divorce. For example, if the husband in the previous example sold the $10,000 watch and the money was used to make improvements to the jointly-titled family home, that is now a marital asset. Likewise, if a wife inherits a family business to which the husband makes a significant contribution over time, that business could also be considered a marital asset.

In making such determinations, a judge would consider factors such as: the length of the marriage, the contributions of each spouse to the total family assets, the conduct of each spouse (e.g., if one was cheating on or abusing the other), and each spouse’s age, health, and future earning potential. 

Get Advice from an Experienced Farmington Hills Divorce Attorney

If you expect the division of marital property to be a problem in your divorce, contact an Oakland County divorce lawyer as soon as possible. At Elkouri Heath PLC, we have years of experience handling divorces and negotiating the most difficult divorce issues, including the equitable division of assets. Contact our office at 248-344-9700 to arrange a free consultation.




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