One carat diamond ring on a one hundred dollar bill

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We’re Separated, but I Still Owe Money on the Engagement Ring!

Dear Carolyn,

I am separated.  We were only married two years before separating. She is having an affair.  I bought my wife a huge engagement ring, which I gave to her before the wedding.  I still owe $25,000 on the ring, which was borrowed before we got married.  We paid on the ring during the marriage out of my earnings.  My ex will not give back the ring.  What are my options?

– Help Me!


Dear Help Me,

Ouch!  The good news is that the affair (“illicit sexual misconduct”) should bar her from alimony.  You cannot get alimony if you have committed illicit sexual misconduct, unless the other spouse also had an affair.

The bad news is that the definition of marital property for purposes of asset division are assets that are acquired between the date of marriage and the date of separation.  The engagement ring you describe does not fall in this category as it was acquired before the marriage.  Unfortunately, she keeps the ring in all likelihood.

Now, let’s discuss the debt on the ring.  Unfortunately, since the debt was acquired before marriage, the debt—like the ring—is not marital.  However, you have the option of claiming the debt as a factor for an unequal division of marital property given that she has the ring and you have the debt.  The situation seems fundamentally unfair and thus, the judge may consider this inequity.

You may want to consider a lawsuit against the paramour for alienation of affection and criminal conversation.  The monetary award you might receive could help pay off the debt on the ring.  This seems only fair since the other guy now has the girl with the big ring.  Make him pay this way.

The biggest factor against you in the alienation of affection case is that the marriage was short, and juries tend not to give big awards when the marriage in question was short.

Next time, consider a premarital agreement regarding all economic issues.  Good luck!


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Note that the answers in “Ask Carolyn” are intended to provide general legal information, and the answers are not specific legal advice for your situation.  The column also uses hypothetical questions.  A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need in your unique case.  Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by “Ask Carolyn.”

This blog is an excerpt from Ask Carolyn, available on kindle.