Wedding Woes: The short-lived marriage

by epi on February 15, 2012

Q: My husband and I are divorcing after 11 months of marriage, and I’ll be seeking an annulment (it was a Roman Catholic wedding).  I researched and saw that Emily Post has a (now dated) opinion of returning case gifts if a marriage lasts less than a year.  I am finding that “modern” opinions vary widely.  What is current etiquette?

A: I am sure that this is a sad and difficult time for you both and that you don’t need to add more worry or stress.  From a practical point of view, it is not necessary to return your wedding gifts, cash or otherwise.  Since you and your husband lived together for 11 months, you have probably used most of your wedding gifts.  It doesn’t make any sense to return used gifts or, after this much time, to go to the trouble and expense to send back unused gifts, either.  You and your husband should consider your wedding gifts, including the cash, as part of your household effects and divide them as you would your other marital assets.  The time when wedding gifts should be returned is when a wedding is canceled, the couple never lives together or the couple separates and seeks to end the marriage almost immediately (say, within two or three months).  In such cases, including cash are returned (presumably they haven’t been used or spent) with a short note of explanation.  Another difficult question is what to do with the engagement ring.  It can also be considered a gift and part of the couple’s assets and treated accordingly — “You keep the ring, I’ll take the piano” — or sold and the proceeds shared.  Others believe the ring is a gift and belongs solely to the bride.  But, in the case of an heirloom — whether jewelry, furniture or artwork — it ideally goes back to the family it came from.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Danielle February 15, 2012 at 1:34 pm

I disagree on the ring.
If you end an engagement before you get married, you return the ring. The only exceptions are if the guy proposes on Christmas or your birthday, then it’s a gift and you get to keep the ring. There’s legal precedence for this.
If you get annulled or divorced, even if it’s very shortly after the marriage, the bride keeps her engagement ring since the promise of marriage was fulfilled.

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Just Laura February 15, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Ah, but part of the law (which varies by state) indicates that if the man breaks off the engagement, the woman retains the ring. If the woman breaks off the engagement , then it is to be returned since it was a “gift with intent to marry” (assuming the man purchased it).
I agree with EPI that even if marriage was fulfilled, a lady would return an heirloom ring to the ex-husband’s family. It is simply the kind thing to do.

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Zakafury February 16, 2012 at 12:10 pm

I think the EPI did a fine job of avoiding treating marriage like a commodity.

I hope that the ring does not buy a commitment from the bride the way Danielle’s argument seems to suggest.

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Heather February 19, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Maintaining an amicable relationship is far more important than the value of a ring (or any other item in the household). I really like the answer given; basically, work together to decide who gets it back. Drawing lines in the sand about “It’s a gift” or “It represented a commitment” will usually result in anger and bitterness, in a situation where there will already be plenty of hurt to go around.

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