Settling property matters between divorcing spouses can be difficult. It is helpful to see how cases actually play out. In an interesting July 11, 2017 case from the Court of Appeals of Tennessee, part of the spouses’ dispute centered around two rings gifted from the husband to the wife during their marriage. After a trial, the lower court ruled that each spouse would receive one ring. The parties filed an appeal.

The question was, were the rings marital property or separate property of the wife? Generally, assets acquired by either spouse during the marriage are presumed to be marital property, and assets acquired by either spouse before the marriage are presumed to be separate property. In addition, assets acquired by one spouse by gift, bequest, devise, or descent are also considered separate property. Significantly, separate property is not part of the marital estate and is therefore not subject to division. If the spouses cannot agree on how to divide property in the event of divorce, the trial court will classify the spouses’ property as marital or separate and assign a value to each piece of property subject to division. The court will then divide the property in an essentially equitable manner, without regard to the marital fault.

The wife contested the trial court’s order awarding each spouse one of the two rings given to the wife by the husband during their marriage. The husband argued that the rings were made from rings belonging to his mother and grandmother, and the wife said she didn’t want them after discovering his infidelity. On appeal, the court ruled in favor of the wife, noting that the only evidence elicited at trial demonstrated that the two rings were a gift to the wife from the husband, that the wife placed the rings in a safe when the parties separated, and that the husband removed the rings from the safe to re-propose to the wife. Although she rejected that proposal, the court found that she never expressed an intent to relinquish her property interest in the rings. As a result, the court held that the two rings should be classified as the wife’s separate property.

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