In a listserv discussion among colleagues, the topic of whether a wedding ring is "marital property" and the value should be divided between the parties, it was obvious that courts in the 50 states deal with in different ways with this issue.
Mark Johnson Roberts, family lawyer in Portland, Oregon graciously has shared a published decision from Oregon holding that the wedding ring is a gift to the wife--intended for her own use and enjoyment--and thus is her separate property.
In the Oregon appellate court, Wife contended that the trial court erred in treating her wedding ring, valued at $8,320, as a marital asset. She asserted that the ring should be treated either as her premarital asset or that, because Husband gave her the ring for her sole use and enjoyment, it was her separate property. The appellate court found Wife's argument persuasive and that Wife, as a result, rebutted the presumption of equal contribution that would make the ring marital property. Husband's argument was a fence-straddling one: he contended that he gave the ring to Wife "in contemplation of marriage" and also that the ring "was acquired during the marriage."
As the court viewed the case, the trial court should have treated as wife's separate property. If it was received before marriage, it was a premarital asset that should be awarded to wife. Conversely, if it was received during the marriage, W rebutted the presumption of equal contribution (which would have made it marital property) because the evidence showed that the property was acquired by a gift which was received by one spouse and that the gift was unrelated to the other spouse's efforts or that the other spouse was not the object of the donative intent." [Emphasis in original]
The court noted that gifts of items of purely personal use such as clothing, jewelry, etc. that are uniquely suited to the use of one spouse and not the other, lead to the inference that the recipient, and the recipient alone, is the sole object of donative intent, in the absence of evidence to the contrary.
I like this analysis. It's rather like the analysis that courts in Michigan and elsewhere have given to protect inheritances as separate property where the inheritance is given to only one spouse and the monies were never commingled in a joint account.
The Oregon case is Mallorie and Mallorie, 113 P.3d 924, 200 Or. App. 204 (Or. App., 2005). Download Mallorie_v_Mallorie here.
Engagement Rings? In Michigan, by case law, an engagement ring must be returned if the wedding doesn't occur (it's a conditional gift), but it is wife's separate property once the wedding occurs. Meyer v Mitnick 625 N.W.2d 136 (Mich. App., 2001).