What Happens to Jewelry in a Divorce

woman touching wedding rings
 Thai Yaun Lim/Getty Images

If you're going through the divorce process, a lot is running through your mind. Uprooting your life, separating your finances, and grieving the loss of a spouse are among the growing list of concerns. One of the more debated and emotional parts of a divorce is the division of assets. Fine jewelry, whether acquired before or after you got married, may need to be divided equally, and you may have to pay your spouse half its value if you choose to keep it. 

While each state's laws vary, some basic principles exist that should help you come up with the necessary evidence and questions you'll need to present to your lawyer. 

The information presented in this article is not legal advice. For more information on dividing jewelry in a divorce, be sure to consult your attorney.

Jewelry as Non-Marital or Separate Property

Any assets you owned or acquired prior to your marriage are usually considered separate property. This property is owned solely by the individual and cannot be divided. In some cases, items you collected during the course of your marriage could also be considered separate property.

Separate property is not subject to the same division of assets as marital or community property. 

There are a number of laws and circumstances that define what is considered separate property. For instance, if you received a jewelry gift from your family or friends during your marriage, that could be considered separate property. There may even be instances where jewelry gifts from your spouse during your marriage would be yours alone. 

Things to consider:

  • When did you acquire the jewelry?
  • Who gave you the jewelry? Do you have proof?
  • Do you have any written evidence, such as a birthday card, that would prove when the jewelry was given?
  • Do you have any pictures of you wearing the jewelry?
  • Does your spouse consider the jewelry to be yours alone?

What About Engagement Rings?

Since an engagement ring was purchased prior to the wedding nuptials, it's usually considered separate property. Heather Frances of Legal Zoom states, "Generally, engagement and wedding rings are not divisible in a divorce, but other jewelry and gifts given during a marriage may be considered marital property that can be divided by a divorce court." 

Christian Denmon elaborates, "an engagement ring given before the marriage is considered a gift outside of the marriage. The only time it can be considered a marital asset is if it’s upgraded or altered during the marriage, which would then make it eligible for a 50/50 split during a divorce."

So while your original engagement ring may be safe, an upgraded one is not. Also, the diamond necklace your husband got you for your anniversary may be at risk during a divorce. Why? Because that necklace could be considered a marital asset. 

Jewelry as Marital or Community Property

Community property is the joint ownership of items acquired during a marriage. In effect, any items that were purchased using money made during the marriage are equally divisible between spouses. This includes jewelry gifts from one spouse to another. States that have community property contracts for marriage include Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Julie Barber explains, "While the laws in community property states vary, community property generally means that all assets purchased by a married couple with assets earned during the marriage are owned equally by the husband and wife regardless of how it's titled (unless it's acquired by gift or inheritance), and all debts are incurred equally."

This ideology is not just limited to community property states. If you live in a separate property state, certain jewelry assets like gifts between spouses can still be considered marital property and therefore subject to division. 

Ways to Protect Heirloom Jewelry

If you inherited jewelry from your family through the course of your marriage, this doesn't necessarily mean it's safe from division. There are some precautionary steps you can take to ensure your inherited family jewelry is considered separate property and does not become contested during a divorce. 

  • Add existing heirloom jewelry to a prenuptial agreement or marriage contract prior to getting married
  • Save written documentation from the person who gave you the jewelry explicitly stating the jewelry is for you
  • Get any jewelry appraisals done in your only name

How to Come to an Amicable Outcome

In most cases, the division of jewelry assets can go smoothly if both parties agree. Most contested matters involving jewelry are due to spite or high jewelry values. If your spouse bought you a $20,000 ring, they are more likely to split the asset versus wanting to split a $200 ring.

If you're having trouble coming to an agreement over your jewelry collection, there are a few things you can do. Deborah Fowles suggests bartering. "One of the most common [resolution tecniques] is bartering, where one spouse takes certain items in exchange for others. For example, the wife may take the car and furniture in exchange for the husband getting the boat." She also suggests selling off assets and dividing the proceeds evenly which may not be a worthwhile option for sentimental heirlooms.  

If you've hit a wall negotiating through the division of jewelry, step back and ask yourself these questions: 

  • What is the jewelry worth? Do you have a jewelry appraisal?
  • Do you wish to keep the jewelry for sentimental reasons or out of spite?

Consider whether this is a financial or emotional issue. Is your spouse contesting your request to keep the jewelry due to financial concerns or due to some other motive? Work through your issues by consulting with a mediator or arbitrator. Their outcome will be the fairest one based on the laws in your state.

Questions for Your Lawyer

It is so important that you seek reliable legal counsel through your divorce proceedings. This is especially true if you have a vast and sentimental jewelry collection. Stay organized and keep track of questions you have for your attorney so you can ask them all at once instead of one expensive email at a time.

  • Does your state consider all personal items, even ones acquired prior to marriage, as community property?
  • Does your state consider high-value jewelry gifts from your spouse a marital asset?
  • What documentation is required to prove jewelry as a personal asset?