Where is your engagement ring?

Two questions for the divorced women of the world, and for anyone else who has an opinion on the subject:

  1. What does a woman typically do with her engagement ring following a divorce?
  2. More importantly, what is the moral, ethical, equitable and sensible thing to do with it?


In one sense, an engagement ring is a gift, so a woman has a right to do whatever she would like with it following a divorce. Right?

Then again, if an engagement ring is truly a gift, can a happily married woman return or exchange the ring once she becomes tired of it?

Probably not.

When an engagement is called off, it is expected that the woman will return the engagement ring to the man. All other gifts given and received during the relationship typically remain with their recipients, but the engagement ring occupies a different space. It comes with the promise of marriage, and so if that marriage never takes place, the ring is returned to the purchaser.

What if the ring was a family heirloom, handed down on the man’s side of the family for hundreds of years?

Upon the disillusion of the marriage, would the woman be expected to return the heirloom to the man and his family? I think we would all agree that this is probably the case.

In short, an engagement ring ain’t just a gift.

I would argue that the engagement ring is a gift that is given to the marriage, and as such, it must be treated differently than a pair of slippers or a bottle of wine. It is a requirement of sorts. An expectation. A demarcation of the initiation of a journey that the man and woman will take together.

It is also a gift absent reciprocation. The man will likely never receive anything as valuable or significant in return from the woman.

It’s also expensive. Self-proclaimed experts claim that an engagement ring should cost a man about three months of his salary, making it one of the most expensive items that he will ever purchase. This also makes it the largest gift that a woman will ever receive.

With all of these factors in mind, I ask:

What should a woman do with her engagement ring upon the disillusion of the marriage?

I’ve been asking divorced women this question, and I have received three answers, two of which I consider less-than-satisfactory:

1. The ring is still sitting in her jewelry box, gathering dust.

2. The woman sold the ring, keeping the proceeds for herself.

3. The woman is keeping it with the intend of giving it to her daughter someday.

Option #3 is ideal. The couple has children, including a daughter, and so upon the disillusion of the marriage, it is agreed that the ring will be given to the daughter at a specified moment in her life.


As for the other two options, however, I find them ethically unsound.

To maintain possession of the ring, with the intent to sell it or keep it for an unspecified period of time, strikes me as wrong. The husband deserves at least half of that ring’s value. As stated before, an engagement ring is not a gift in the truest sense of the word, and just like it would be returned if the engagement is broken off, it should also be returned in the event that the marriage ends. At the very least it should be sold, and the proceeds divided between the couple.

Frankly, selling the ring and keeping the proceeds for oneself strikes me as classless and fairly despicable. To view the ring as a simple gift is casting a blind eye at the idea of the inherent differences of the engagement ring, and to sell it with the expectation that the profits belong solely to the woman seems selfish, petty, unfair and rude.

If it's just left to linger in the jewelry box, add ridiculous and illogical to the list.

Obviously exceptions can be made if the husband has cheated on his spouse, bankrupt the family through illegal gambling or burned the house down while cooking meth, but in most divorces, a woman who simply keeps the ring for personal profit is fairly loathsome.

Disagree with me? Let me ask you this:

A couple gets engaged, and three days before the wedding, the bride calls the wedding off. Does the ring go back to the man?

I think most would say yes.

What if that same couple gets married and then decides to annul the marriage a week later? Should the ring go back to the man?

I’m willing to bet that most people would say yes.

What if that same couple decides to divorce after three months of marriage?  Does the ring go back to the man?

I think a majority of respondents could agree that the ring should go back to the man.

So what if the couple divorces after ten years? Is it not reasonable to ask the woman to sell the ring and divide the proceeds? Or even give the ring back? Is it only time that effectively transfers full ownership of the ring in the event of a divorce, and if so, how long must the marriage exist for this to happen?

Does this not strike you as a little ridiculous as well? In fact, I tend to believe that the ring should simply be returned to the man, but absent of this, I think a division of the ring is acceptable.

Frankly, I’m not really sure how women who don't return these rings or at least forge an equitable split are able to justify their claim to the jewelry or live with themselves after profiteering from the ring. It’s a decision that moves well past presumption and into the realm of the greedy and despicable.