Where matters of division of assets during divorce are looked at, a specific inquiry often arises: what happens to jewellery, with its sentimental and financial worth, when a marriage is dissolved? In this article, we delve into the practical and legal issues, shedding light on the principles and considerations governing how jewellery is split on divorce.
Historically, the Married Women’s Property Act 1870 meant that any jewellery that a man gifted to his wife during the marriage was only for the ‘decoration of her person’ and remained the property of the husband. But a change in the law in 1882 gave women more rights to keep any jewellery gifted by their husband.
In general terms, these days, the owning spouse can keep their jewellery whether or not it was gifted. That is, unless an ‘express intention’ can be established that provides for specific pieces of jewellery to be returned in the event the relationship breaks down. Although this is subject to sufficient assets making up the matrimonial pot to achieve a fair division.
Do I have to disclose jewellery in financial proceedings?
If you do not have a written agreement in place, and are unable to agree between you how financial matters should be resolved, then it may be necessary to apply to the court for a financial order. During financial proceedings, both parties must provide full and frank disclosure and complete a Form E. This is a comprehensive document to which various supporting financial documents must be attached and asks questions about property/land, bank/savings accounts, investments, policies, debts, business interests, pensions, earnings, and personal assets.
Section 2.8 of Form E deals with personal belongings, and items worth more than £500 must be disclosed. Together with cars, antiques, furniture, and house contents, this will include jewellery. Individual pieces will need to be itemised alongside a current valuation. The value of the jewellery can then be taken into account as part of the overall matrimonial asset pot. In essence, the higher the value of the jewellery, the more likely it is that it will be considered.
Can I avoid a future dispute over jewellery if I divorce?
Depending on the value of the jewellery, it may be an option to consider minimising the risk of a future dispute by entering into a written agreement that expressly sets out how the jewellery will be dealt with on divorce.
This could be dealt with in a pre-nuptial agreement entered into before marrying or a post-nuptial agreement entered into any time after the wedding.
Does it matter what the jewellery is worth?
If the value of the jewellery represents a significant proportion of the matrimonial asset pot, other assets may be split unevenly to reflect a fair division of the assets as a whole. If this cannot be achieved, then some jewellery may have to be sold.
If the wedding is called off, do I/does my partner have to return the engagement ring?
Enshrined in The Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970, generally speaking, an engagement ring is presumed to be an absolute gift, unless it can be demonstrated that the engagement ring was given under the proviso that it should be returned if the marriage does not take place.
Family heirlooms can be especially important, and in cases where the engagement ring has been passed down the generations, it is possible that the ring may not be deemed an absolute gift and should be returned if the wedding is called off.
What happens to other gifts on divorce?
A party cannot expect to seek the return of a gift made to their spouse during the marriage, unless, as stated previously, it was given subject to a condition of return. In this case, the party seeking return would need to prove that the condition was expressly given and accepted by the receiving party, which could be difficult if it was discussed verbally. Evidence of text messages discussing the issue would likely prove persuasive, or if the condition was set out in a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement.
Gifts from friends or relatives are generally considered to be gifts to that person only and will remain with them on divorce. This applies to wedding presents and gifts given to the couple throughout the marriage.
What actions could I take to protect my jewellery during divorce?
The following steps can help you avoid disputes about jewellery if you divorce:
- Inform your solicitor about any high-value items of jewellery. They will be able to tell you what category it will fall into, such as an heirloom holding significant sentimental value, or a gift to both parties and included in the matrimonial pot.
- If you are giving a gift, record your intention. Is the piece a personal gift? Is it an heirloom? Write down whether you want the gift returned if there is a separation or divorce.
- Many cases involving jewellery ownership fail because of a lack of documentary evidence. Make a list of items you buy, take photographs, and keep the receipt. It will prove when you purchased the jewellery, its cost, and weight (if gold). If you don’t have the receipt, you should think about obtaining a professional valuation.
How do I get a jewellery valuation for divorce purposes?
Obtaining a valuation of jewellery for divorce purposes is a crucial step in the financial settlement process. Steps include:
- Seeking a professional jewellery appraiser with recognised qualifications, such as a gemmologist or a member of a reputable appraisal organisation like the National Association of Jewellers (NAJ) or the Gemmological Association of Great Britain (Gem-A).
- Contacting the appraiser and arrange an appointment. The appraiser should be impartial and not connected to either party involved in the divorce. You should include detailed descriptions, photographs, and any relevant documentation, such as certificates of authenticity or receipts, where possible.
- During the appraisal, the expert will thoroughly examine each piece, assessing factors like metal purity, gemstone quality, craftsmanship, and market conditions. They will then assign a fair market value to each item.
- The appraiser will provide a detailed valuation report, which you can present to your solicitor for discussion on how the jewellery valuation might fit into the overall financial settlement strategy.
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