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Are diamonds forever?

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Are Diamonds Forever?

Diamonds may well be forever, but the question in family law financial matters, is who gets to keep the jewellery”?  


The divorce treatment of jewellery, whether gifts or heirlooms, applies to all relationship breakdowns brought to the family courts for resolution.  Whether an engaged couple breaks off an engagement, or when married couples or those in a civil partnership, pursue separation, dissolution or divorce proceedings, the courts will decide who get the jewellery.

Is Jewellery Considered Part of the Matrimonial Estate?

It is trite law that what is purchased or attained during the time of the marriage, is considered part of the matrimonial estate. Is that the case with jewellery?

Strong emotions are often attached to jewellery, and one hopes it is gifted out of love and affection. Sometimes it is gifted as a guilt offering. We can speculate forever and a day on the whys and wherefores. Should the parties really be thinking to keep one cufflink each or evenly divide the pearls in a pearl necklace? Holding on to such items becomes hugely personal and is often the subject of much dispute between divorcing couples.

Jewellery Must Be Disclosed In A Financial Divorce – But At Re-sale Value.

Whatever the reason or intention behind the ownership of jewellery, it must be disclosed in the Form E financial statement. Belongings worth more than £500, including jewellery, must be itemised with details of current values.  That means, declared at the re-sale value of each item, as opposed to valuations for insurance purposes.

Historically, in the jurisdiction of England and Wales, the Married Women’s Property Act 1870 provided that a woman owning jewellery provided by her husband remained his, because all he was doing was decorating his wife, akin to baubles on a Christmas tree! Such an Act of Parliament was thankfully short-lived and was repealed by the Married Women’s Property Act 1882.

The court has jurisdiction and power to settle disputes between married couples about property. This is generally set out at Section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

The Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970 (‘the 1970 Act’) provides greater insight as to treatment of jewellery in a contemplated marriage. 

So let’s explore some common scenarios, when love falters and relationships breakdown.

Engagements That End Before The “I Do”.

Where the couple was engaged, but did not marry and claim beneficial interest in property,

Section 2 of the 1970 Act permits the court to decide.  In such circumstances, the court will treat property of engaged couples, as if they were married. However, be aware that any such claims need to be made within three years of termination of the engagement. Such a dispute would be brought under Section 17 of the Married Women’s Property Act 1882, (‘MWPA’) and section 7 of the Matrimonial Causes (Property and Maintenance) Act 1958.

What Happens When Jewellery Is A Treasured Family Heirloom?

In many cultures, items of jewellery are passed down from one generation to the next. These family heirlooms are presumed to be a conditional gift to the recipient.  And as a conditional gift in the context of an engagement, there is a presumption the jewellery would be returned to the family upon termination of an engagement or marriage. [See section 3 (1) of the 1970 Act].

Are Engagement Rings Presumed To Be A Gift?

The gift of an engagement ring is presumed to be an absolute gift, unless it can be shown that the ring was given on condition, express or implied, that it should be returned if the marriage did not take place for any reason. [See Section 3(2) of the 1970 Act].

How To Decide Ownership and interest.

Section 17 MWPA provides a procedural route to determine rights of couples in marriage, civil partnership, and those couples engaged, where the engagement has been broken off. The procedural route is open irrespective of a claim for divorce, dissolution, or separation, which are not available in any event to those who were engaged, and did not marry, but have disputes of property interest between them.

Weighing up Jewellery Values Vs The Overall Matrimonial Estate.

The courts will look at the overall fairness of the value of the matrimonial estate to be divided using Section 25 factors set out in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

If for example, the couple’s fortune and assets are in watches and jewellery, more weight will be placed upon a division of those watches and jewellery, than if such watches and jewellery were but a small proportion of the total value of the matrimonial estate.

How To Broach Or Not To ‘Brooch’ Jewellery.

It’s best to be in a position to avoid such thorny questions, when anger, frustration and emotions often take over logical intelligence between warring parties.  Having a pre-nuptial agreement in place, which sets out who owns what, and what happens in the event of a breakdown of marriage. It is also sensible to document the circumstances of jewellery acquired during the marriage or relationship.

Navigating Jewellery Division in Divorce Settlements Can Be Tricky.

There are many factors to consider in the settlement of family law financial matters. Seeking the support of a qualified and experienced family law solicitor is helpful to provide some clarity and a path forward, in what is often an emotional and fraught situation.

You may require a one-off meeting to understand your position and the best way forward in your situation, or you may prefer representation. David Rosen & Co are driven by the values of  honesty and integrity, transparency, and accountability so that our clients best interests are always at the forefront. We will always understand the matter at hand and your aims/desired outcomes, to then provide you sound legal advice whilst being mindful of costs and risks, always.

Professor Rosen is a solicitor-advocate in practice and principal of David Rosen & Co. He specialises in family law, divorce and financial settlements. David is a member of Resolution, and the Society of Legal Scholars amongst others. He is a full academic Professor of Professional Practice at Brunel University Law School where he lectures one day each week.

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29 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3EE

[email protected]

Tel. 020 3657 4295


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