Select Page

Many of us will have seen in the news recently, the legal battle following Maya Jama’s ex-fiancé demanding the return of Maya’s $1 million engagement ring following their split. Which leads us to the question of where do engagement rings and other gifts stand following separation in divorce and civil partnerships?

What constitutes a gift between married couples?

The general rule is that if you give someone an item as a gift, you can’t ask for it back unless the gift was given under a specific condition. Some cases, the original owner of the gift argues that the item was never intended as a gift and therefore must be returned. However, to establish it was not a gift the original owner will need to prove that the intention was never to make a gift.

Engagement Rings

In most circumstances, the engagement ring is presumed to be an absolute gift to the receiver as you are gifting it to them on the agreement they say ‘yes’ to your proposal. Therefore, usually if the marriage is not fruitful they are not obliged to return it.

Although, there are cases where the engagement ring is given under a condition that it will be returned in the event that the marriage ends. This could be documented in a pre-nuptial agreement. If the receiver of the ring refuses to return it, the burden of proof is on the original owner to prove the ring was given on the condition it would be returned if the marriage breaks down.

Gifts from relatives

Unless specified otherwise, items constituting gifts from the friends and family of one spouse for their personal use are assumed to be gifts to that individual spouse rather than a joint gift. Therefore, technically that spouse is the one to keep it in the event of the divorce. Although, often it is not that straightforward, especially when the gift is a valuable asset which both parties to the marriage have the benefit of and/or that asset is required to be shared in order to meet both parties’ financial needs on separation.

Therefore, if you expect or have received a substantial gift from your family and you wish to keep that gift separate from the assets of the marriage, we would strongly advise you seek legal advice as to how to protect that asset in the event of separation.


Heirlooms are treated like that of inheritance as the intention often with heirlooms is that they hold sentimental value and have been passed down generations of the family. Therefore, the court may take the view on divorce that they should be treated as non-matrimonial similar to an inheritance to be retained by the relevant spouse.

However, like that of inheritance and any other gifts, if the heirloom is necessary in the settlement to ensure both parties’ needs are met, the Court may deem it fair to sell the heirloom to meet those needs or award the other party with more of the matrimonial joint assets as some form of offset for the relevant spouse retaining their family heirloom.

If you would like to discuss the matter of gifts further or to request a free consultation , please email our specialist team of Family law solicitors at or call us on 0113 322 9222.