Ex-etiquette: Wife wants ring to pay for divorce costs

Jann Blackstone

Q: My wife is trying to get me to pay for all the divorce costs. We were married for two years. The wedding ring from our marriage is a family heirloom from my mother’s side. I think my wife and I should split the cost of our divorce and when I told her that, she handed me the ring and said, “This should pay for anything I owe you.” Our marriage didn’t last, so I don’t think she can put a monetary value on the ring. I think she should return it and pay for half the cost. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A: It all depends on how much you want this divorce.

A wedding ring is a symbol of your vow, and if someone chooses to wear one, they are telling the world they have made a commitment to someone through marriage. But, there is no “law” that one must wear a ring to be married. The ring is a gift — and there lies the rub if you choose a family heirloom as that gift. Gifts don’t have to be returned.

However, good ex-etiquette suggests that family heirlooms should be returned to the family of origin — or they should be passed on to children of the marriage. That answers part of your question. The second part, whether the ring pays for her half of the divorce costs raises other considerations.

It sounds like your wife was angry when you asked her to pay for half of the divorce, and so her response was, “Take it out of this ...” That means it’s unlikely she will cooperate with you at this juncture. So, the bottom line is my first question, “How much do you want this divorce?” After two years of marriage, the cost that you are talking about is probably just filing fees — unless you have made some substantial investments in those two years — and if that was the case it’s doubtful filing fees would make or break you. That means you are looking to her for hundreds, not thousands of dollars — unless you’re using an attorney and then if you can’t agree on the cost a judge will make the decision.

So, my response is something you might have considered while you were married. Pick your battles. You are breaking up. How much residual damage do you want to carry with you? Do you want to be angry that she isn’t paying for half the divorce, or do you want the divorce? If you’re going to continue to fight, psychologically that’s an indicator that you may be more invested than you think. Fighting is a way to stay connected.

Finally, all things equal, good ex-etiquette suggests you always look for the compromise (Ex-etiquette rule No. 10). That means if you can split things equally, do so. In your case, I’m not so sure that’s what’s important. You may have some soul searching to do — and so does your wife. That’s good ex-etiquette.

Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. Email her at dr.jann@exetiquette.com.