NEW YORK: On the legal status of Ivanka Trump's engagement ring

Ivanka Trump’s engagement ring is a rare piece of work. By that I mean, it isn’t every day that a bride to be is given an engagement ring from her own collection of jewelry. Did you catch that? Jared bought Ivanka’s ring from Ivanka’s Madison Avenue store and from her own collection of engagement rings. How often does something like this happen?!
What that means is that Ivanka is a double dipper with respect to her engagement ring. By double-dipper, I mean that she has the ring (which, I’m sure, cost at least six figures) and she also got the cash for the ring. Are you following that? She got two for the price of one. The ring itself and the six figures it cost to purchase the ring. Wow, right? Nice work, Ivanka! Go girl!!!
Got me to thinking about the status of that ring if the marriage ever ended. Now, I don’t think the marriage will ever end (as if it’s any of my business). But still. Just to play devil’s advocate, what if they don’t hold the marriage together? What if they do in fact divorce one day? What is the status of Ivanka’s engagement ring?
This, I think, is a very provocative question. Very ripe and lush and full. I can tell you this: In New York, engagement rings are considered conditional pre-marital gifts that become “marital property” after the marriage takes place (except that some courts have said they are “separate property”). If the marriage does not take place, the ring goes back to the guy as his separate property – unless his hands are “unclean” and that the marriage did not take place due to that uncleanness (example, he was married to someone else when he gave the other woman a ring.) In a situation like that, he probably won’t get his ring back…see this case… Lowe v. Quinn, 27 NY 2d 397, 318 NYS 2d 467, 267 NE 2d 251 (1971).
But the general rule seems to be, and has been historically, that the ring is a conditional gift and only upon marriage does ownership pass to the wife – as separate property – even though at that point, there is no consensus that she alone owns it. So really, it’s not separate at all, but marital. (Have I confused you yet?) A good case on the conditional nature of the engagement ring is Beck, V. Cohen, 237 App. Div. 729, 262 NYS 716 (1st Dept 1933); and also Wilson v. Riggs, 243 App. Div. 33, 276 NYS 232 (1st Dept 1934), aff’d 267 NY 570, 196 NE 584 (1935)
Okay. So where are we with Ivanka’s ring? Well, now that the marriage has taken place, the ring is no longer a conditional gift from Jared. It is the “marital property” of both Ivanka and Jared, however, ownership is leaning toward it being Ivanka’s “separate property”, in my opinion – and I base my opinion on the case law I read.
But is it? Take the case Addeo v. Addeo (sorry I don’t have the citation)  but the Addeo case stands for the principle that the wife is entitled to keep the ring and the the husband is not entitled to “reclamation.” The court did not say whether the ring was “separate” property or “marital” property. It simply found that in that particular case, the ring should be left with the wife.  But the court made an exception for a ring of “exceptional value.”  In other words, if you or I and the rest of our cronies in the hoi polloi get an engagement ring from our future spouse who then becomes our spouse upon marriage, we probably can keep the ring as our separate property because chances are, it is not going to be of “exceptional value.” But society girls like Ivanka Trump will most often than not have a ring of “exceptional value” and in a case like that, the Addeo case seems to say it is going to be treated as marital property that is owned by both Ivanka and Jared and subject to equitable distribution in New York – meaning the value will be divvied amongst the two of them.
The Lipton v. Lipton  134 Misc. 2d 1076, 514 NYS 2d  158 (Sup. Ct., NY County, 1986) case was a better case for wives like Ivanka because it expressly stated that the ring was “separate property” and belonged to the wife and did not make an exception for “exceptional value.” ivanka's engagement ring
By now, if I haven’t made myself clear, in New York, property is classified as either “marital property” or “separate property.” Marital property is anything acquired or accrued after the marriage. “Separate property” is anything acquired prior to marriage, or in some instances given to a spouse by a party other than their spouse. The rub with engagement rings is that the courts have not really ruled that these are absolutely separate property or marital property. It depends.
You are probably wondering, “how can it ever be marital property” when marital property is anything that is acquired after the marriage?” The cute thing about the engagement ring is that even though it was given before the marriage, as I stated above, all the case law is consistent that is it only a conditional gift and so title to it does not vest until the marriage takes place. Thus, title actually “passes” or “vests” after marriage – making it marital property. But then, to confuse you even further, it is treated like separate property by some judges. However, the value of the property will make a difference and even those judges that treat the ring as separate property after the marriage occurs, if it is of “exceptional value” it will possibly be treated as marital property -owned by both spouses -and thus subject to equitable distribution. ivanka's engagement ring 2
What makes Ivanka’s ring interesting, as I said, is that even assuming a court were to find that it was “marital property” because of it’s unusual value, it still begs the question “what about the cash that she received for it?” In other words, she got the ring and he paid her store for it as well. So double the asset is what she effectively got. If the marriage ends in divorce and the courts, because of its exceptional value, deem the ring “marital property” I just wonder what the status of the cash she received would be? I guess it would be a moot point because it’s not as if parties would be able to go back to a store owner under normal circumstances and recoup the value of an engagement ring if they got divorced.
But circumstances can alter the outcome of a case. And in this case, this conditional gift bestowed on Ms. Trump also put an equivalent wad of cash in her pocket….actually, no. I see it. The cash is hers to keep. Forget everything I just said about the cash. The ring might be hers and his. But the cash is definitely hers to keep because…..Contract law 101 and something called CONSIDERATION! Which, to be perfectly honest with you, I don’t even want to think about right now. But the cash is definitely Ivanka’s and the ring is probably both of theirs…………
Unless of course they have a prenup which speaks to this issue of the ring, which is highly likely….that would mean that….oh god. I don’t want to analyze this anymore. Too tedious. But you get the point, right? Ivanka’s ring is a rare piece of work in more ways than one.
Image credit