Who gets the ring when you divorce?

More reasons for a prenup.

Rings, necklaces and watches aren’t among the top priorities that clients ask me to deal with during the stressful period of break-up and divorce. However, the issue of who keeps the jewellery after a split is one that has proved troublesome for many UHNW divorcees, with emotional consequences that are often significantly more far-reaching than first imagined.

The issue is long contested and its legal origins in the UK date back to the 1870s, and the Married Women’s Property Act. This law presumed that any gifts of jewellery to a wife from a husband was "for the decoration of her person" and not hers to own.

However, after this act was abolished it was considered that a gift would remain the property of the recipient. This could only be contested if there was sufficient evidence that would prove an intention from the recipient to return the gift after an agreed period of time or change of circumstance.

Today, that notion stands true and was reinforced by law in 1970. This indicated that an engagement ring is presumed entirely as a gift from one person to another, unless there was clear intention that the ring would be returned at any point, for example if the ring was an heirloom. It makes you wonder what might happen to the Duchess of Cambridge’s engagement ring were she and Prince William ever to split.

What is an heirloom?

After making this point to clients, many ask the question of "How do I prove it’s an heirloom?" It’s a contentious issue, because the definition of "heirloom’" isn’t necessarily black and white. Further questions include, ‘Is a gift only considered an heirloom after a certain number of years or owners?’ and "Does an heirloom have to be old?"

In the circumstances of a split, steps should always be taken to safeguard your interests by obtaining proof that what you have been given by a family member is indeed an heirloom and can be traced by history of ownership.

This can be done by being the recipient of a note from the relative who gave you the heirloom, stating how it came to be passed onto them before it came to you.

What you do with your wedding band after divorce is entirely up to each individual. A growing trend, originating from the US, is to remould the ring and repurpose the band as a "divorce ring". Others request it to be melted down for use as another piece.

Like all divorce law, the division of assets is dependent on facts and leaves little room for negotiation. Therefore, always bear in mind the details of gifts given and received during your marriage and ensure your separation plans are adapted accordingly

 A pre-nuptial agreement, particularly in relation to family heirlooms that may have significant sentimental value, can take the sting out of asset allocation on divorce and help avoid any nasty surprises further down the line.

Amanda McAlister is Head of Family Law at Slater & Gordon

This story first appeared in Spears magazine

This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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