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What happens to my jewellery during a divorce?

View profile for Shelley Cumbers
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What happens to my jewellery during a divorce?
How is jewellery dealt with on divorce?

What happens to my jewellery during a divorce?

The question of how a divorcing couple should deal with jewellery is one divorce and separation lawyers are often asked. This is especially when it comes to the engagement and wedding rings, or family heirlooms gifted to the husband or wife during their relationship, and which may have significant financial or sentimental value.

In some cases, personal belongings such as jewellery can become a point of contention for divorcing couples as they try to resolve the financial matters arising from their separation.  For example, a particular item of jewellery, or a collection of pieces, can amount to an asset of significant value in comparison to the extent of the overall assets to be shared between the parties. Fairness may require that the jewellery not be overlooked. 

The higher the financial or, indeed, the sentimental, value, the more important it will be for the divorcing couple to ensure the jewellery is fully considered. 

How should a couple deal with their jewellery on divorce?

Generally, a husband or wife can keep their jewellery on divorce regardless of whether it was bought or gifted to them, unless an express intention can be established to provide that the jewellery must be returned in the event of the marriage breaking down.  

This has not always been the case though. Prior to the introduction of the Married Women’s Property Act 1882, wives had to return jewellery gifted to them by their husbands, including engagement and wedding rings, if the marriage broke down. Such items were not considered as being owned by the wife, but instead were for her decoration only. Thankfully, times have moved on and the law treats women more favourably now when addressing the issue of jewellery on divorce, giving them more rights to keep such items.

Should the engagement ring be returned if the wedding is called off?

The Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970 provides that engagement rings are presumed to be an absolute gift, unless it can be demonstrated that the engagement ring was given expressly or otherwise on condition that it should be returned if the marriage does not take place for any reason.  

In cases involving family heirlooms, this can be of particular importance. For example, where the engagement ring has been passed down from one generation to the next, it is possible the ring may not be considered an absolute gift and that instead it should be returned if the wedding is cancelled. This is because there is room to argue that the heirloom was given on the implied condition of the marriage taking place.

What about gifts exchanged between engaged couples?

It is not uncommon for couples to exchange gifts when they get engaged, such as a watch, necklace, or other pieces of jewellery aside from the engagement ring itself. 

What happens then if the engagement is called off? The answer is straightforward – as with engagement rings, if an engaged couple makes a gift to one another as a token of their engagement, and if it was given on the express or implied condition that it should be returned if the marriage does not go ahead, then the law will not prevent either party from seeking the return of the gift if the engagement is called off.

Disclosing jewellery in contested financial proceedings

If there is no written agreement in place (see further below) and the divorcing couple cannot otherwise amicably agree how to resolve the financial issues arising from the breakdown of their marriage, then it may be necessary for either party to apply to the Family Court for a financial order. 

During such financial proceedings on divorce, both parties owe to one another, and to the Court, a duty of full and frank disclosure and this is dealt with initially by the completion of a detailed financial statement known as a Form E.

The Form E is a lengthy document to which various supporting financial documents must be attached and it sets out full details concerning:

  • property
  • land 
  • bank accounts 
  • savings
  • investments
  • policies 
  • personal assets 
  • debts 
  • business interests,
  • pensions, and 
  • income  

Section 2.8 of the Form E deals specifically with personal belongings, such that details of any items individually worth more than £500 must be provided. Along with cars, antique collections, furniture, and house contents, this will include jewellery. Pieces of jewellery should be itemised, and a current valuation should be provided.  

The value of the jewellery can then be considered by the Court as part of a consideration of the overall value of the assets held by the parties so that a decision can be reached as to how the assets should be divided to achieve a fair outcome for the couple. If the jewellery is significantly valuable compared to the other assets to be divided, then the more likely it is that the jewellery may be considered.

How can a couple avoid a future dispute over jewellery?

Depending on the value of the jewellery to the parties, both from a financial and sentimental point of view, an option for them to consider to minimise the risk of a later dispute, is for the couple to enter into a written agreement to expressly state how the issue of jewellery will be dealt with on divorce. 

This will allow them to demonstrate an express intention as to the treatment of jewellery on relationship breakdown. This could be dealt with as a pre-nuptial agreement entered into by the parties prior to their marriage, or as a post-nuptial agreement entered into during the marriage. Both parties would need to take independent legal advice before entering into such agreements.

If you would like to find out more or if you need advice about divorce or separation, please get in touch. We offer a free 15-minute telephone call to discuss matters with you and to see what we can do to help. If you would like to take advantage of that, I am a divorce lawyer and can be contacted on 01206 217378 or shelley.cumbers@birkettlong.co.uk.

 

 

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