Engagement Season: Who Gets the Ring When the Wedding Is Called Off?

The holiday season is a popular time for marriage proposals, but unfortunately not all of these engagements end in a walk down the aisle. Broken engagements are terribly emotional, and in addition to the pain and heartache, the ex-couple must eventually face the age-old question: who gets the ring?

If the two parties are unable to come to a mutual agreement, the issue will ultimately fall into the hands of the court and the answer varies by state. Here is what needs to be considered in order to determine who gets to keep the ring.

Was the ring a gift?
There are three elements that constitute a gift: intent to give the item as a gift; physical delivery of the gift; and acceptance of the gift. If all three requirements were shown, the court may deem the engagement ring as a gift and the person who received the ring gets to keep it.

Holidays and special occasions should also be taken into account. If an engagement ring is given on Christmas, New Year’s or a birthday, some courts may not require that the ring be returned to the giver.¹

Was the ring a conditional gift?
A conditional gift is one where an individual gives a gift that is subject to one or more conditions being met. In this case, when an engagement ring is given to the receiver, it is with the expectation of marriage. If this expectation is not met or event does not occur, the giver has the right to get the ring back.² Most states classify engagement rings as a conditional gift.³

When someone is at fault for the broken engagement…
Some courts use the fault-based approach for matters involving a broken engagement. This means if one party caused the engagement to end, the ring will be awarded to the opposite party, regardless of who gave or received the ring.

When no one is at fault for the broken engagement…
Many times, courts find it inappropriate and unnecessary to consider the reasons for the broken engagement in a private relationship, and will use the no-fault approach when determining who gets the ring. If the engagement ends, the person who gave the ring will get the ring, rejecting any reasons for why or who caused the broken engagement.

  1. http://family.findlaw.com/marriage/what-happens-to-the-engagement-ring-in-a-broken-engagement.html
  2. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/returning-engagement-ring-30198.html
  3. https://apps.fastcase.com/Research/Public/ExViewer.aspx?LTID=eiZJSefUAbfwwW0dqcYsF/jlWICoReiXlTBR7wzYsFPThkKYS2a3N6ZLTuKyk08VqNEkXyRHUy/OH4+lnHXqA0bjuRATBhhKRZN3Bcavt0ye7ipWls8mgUeTQrTaM4GYD7FYyXnLetAjCLVXF/KQzQT6x17wTtoBEygeuhDoQx4=