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What happens to my jewellery in a divorce settlement?

Addressing  jewellery in a divorce settlement can be tricky. When couples get divorced, coming to an agreement on how to split assets such as pensions, investments and the family home, is rarely easy. Jewellery, especially family heirlooms, can add an extra layer of complication to the mix, with high levels of emotions often attached to these items.

A more recent example of how jewellery in a divorce settlement is being addressed is when Cheryl Fernandez-Versini filed for divorce from French businessman Jean-Bernard, he reportedly demanded that she return his late mother’s ring, a family heirloom that he had apparently given Cheryl on their one-year anniversary.

Moral issues aside, does Jean-Bernard have any right, in law, to demand that Cheryl give him the ring back?

What happens to my jewellery in a divorce settlement?


Jewellery in a divorce settlement – The history

The Married Women’s Property Act 1870, meant that any jewellery a man gifted to his wife wasn’t owned by the wife and was only “for the decoration of her person”. Under this act, if a couple divorced, the wife would have to give back all of the jewellery that her husband had given her.

The Married Women’s Property Act 1882 then repealed the earlier act, giving women more rights to keep to any jewellery gifted from their husband.


Jewellery in a divorce settlement – The present day

Usually, after divorce, a woman can keep a piece of jewellery gifted from her husband. However, there is an exception to this.

If it can be demonstrated that the express intention was that the jewellery should be given back if the relationship came to an end, then it should go back to the ‘giver’ of the jewellery. The simplest way to demonstrate this ‘express intention’ is through a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement.


What if the jewellery is a family heirloom?

The term ‘heirloom’ is not readily defined in law. This means that it may be difficult to prove that the jewellery is a family heirloom and was given with the express intention that it should be given back, should the relationship break down.


Does it matter what the jewellery is worth?

It can make things trickier if the value of the jewellery represents a significant proportion of the assets that the couple own. Assets are usually split in some way to make a fair division between each party, which in some cases could mean that the jewellery may have to be sold if there is no other way to make this fair division.


What can I do if I want to protect a family heirloom in the case of my relationship breaking down?

The simplest way to protect any assets that have particular importance to you is to draw up a pre-nuptial agreement before you get married, stating what you would like to happen to these assets should your relationship break down. If you are already married, you can draw up a post-nuptial agreement to the same effect.

Jewellery in a divorce settlement can make divorce negotiations difficult. Speaking to a specialist solicitor can help you to put your mind at rest by discussing what your divorce settlement may look like.

For more information on this subject please visit our Legal Library.


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28th October 2016

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