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$10K Ring Case: 10 Legal Reminders About Engagements

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By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on October 27, 2014 9:30 AM

So you've decided to get engaged. Congrats! But while planning for your wedding, you should be aware of some the legal issues surrounding your engagement.

For example, what happens to that expensive ring if the wedding gets called off? A New York man recently found out the hard way when a judge ruled his ex-girlfriend (whom he claimed was his ex-fiancee) could keep the $10,000 ring he bought her, even though the couple had split.

What are some legal issues soon-to-be married couples need to know about? Here are 10:

  1. Engagement ring laws. In most states, an engagement ring is considered a conditional gift, meaning that if the condition of the gift -- getting married -- doesn't occur, the giver of the ring can revoke the gift and get the ring back.
  2. Is it really an "engagement" ring? In situations where the purpose of a ring given as a gift may not be completely clear, a court may find that the ring is not a conditional gift, but rather an outright gift. In the recent New York case, the woman who'd received the $10,000 ring successfully argued that it was not given as part of a marriage proposal, but rather in recognition of her "being a great woman" and a good mother.
  3. Moving in together. If you and your significant other are planning on living together before being legally married, you might want to consider a cohabitation agreement -- a legal document memorializing the agreed-upon terms of your living arrangement. This can cover individual responsibility for household expenses or the division of property in the event of separation or the death of one of the cohabitants.
  4. Rules regarding marital property. Your property is all yours until the day you get married. After that, income or property you acquire may belong to both you and your spouse as marital or community property.
  5. Division of property upon divorce may vary by state. Although no one wants to consider the possibility of divorce before even being officially married, it is a good idea to know the laws in your state regarding the default rules of property division upon divorce.
  6. Consider a prenuptial agreement. You and your future spouse may also agree beforehand about the division of property upon any separation by entering into a prenuptial agreement. If you do, be sure that the agreement is properly executed and that both sides have the opportunity to be represented by their own legal counsel.
  7. Make sure your officiant is legit. Although many states recognize priests or ministers ordained online, if you are married by one in a state which may not -- like Alabama or Virginia -- your marriage may not be legally recognized.
  8. Get wedding venue, catering agreements in writing. If your wedding plans include renting a venue, hiring a caterer or employing other paid service providers, be sure to get your agreements in writing. Having a signed contract can help make sure everything goes smoothly and allow you to take action if everything doesn't.
  9. Potential issues with destination weddings. Planning a destination wedding? Make sure your wedding will be valid in the country in which it is performed and that it will be recognized by your state when you get back home.
  10. Out-of-state weddings. A marriage performed in any U.S. state will generally be recognized in every other state. However, some states may not recognize same-sex marriages performed in those states that allow them.

Get more legal tips regarding your engagement, your wedding, and beyond at FindLaw's Learn About the Law section on Marriage Law.

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