Doing the Right Thing in a Broken Engagement

Sometimes, life happens. Engagements break off. People part ways.

Calling off a wedding is filled with more than just sorrow, hurt and confusion. Besides the emotional distress and probable heartbreak, both parties are left with questions… including the ever controversial question, “who keeps the ring?”

We wish the answer was as simple as “just give it back,” but in some cases it is truly not that simple. It’s usually more complex then just “giving it back.” A ring is an expensive asset, many times worth thousands of dollars. Because of this, we look to our state law and local courts to help us decide who keeps the ring.

So How Do Courts Decide?

Courts will primarily classify what kind of gift the ring is considered, and will occasionally look at the reasons why the marriage was broken off. There are different laws on gift giving in the U.S. so be sure to know what your state classifies as a “gift.”

When is a Gift a Gift?

The law requires three things to constitute a gift:

1) The giver’s intent to give the ring as a gift

2) The giver’s actual giving of the ring to the receiver; and

3) The receiver’s acceptance of the ring itself

This might make you think “a ring is definitely a gift,” but there is an exception to these rules. A ring is a symbol of love and a promise to marry. With this being said, some may consider a ring to be a conditional gift. The reason is that a ring is given to someone as a gift, and that in return (if they accept it) they will promise to marry. According to the majority of courts, if the marriage is called off, then this gift should be returned to the giver, since the promise was not kept.

However, the Supreme Court of Montana argues the opposite stating that a ring is an unconditional gift. Ex fiancés in this state would likely have a hard time getting their rings back.

“Under Ohio law, unless there is an agreement to the contrary, the engagement ringis considered a conditional gift, given in contemplation of marriage. When, as in your case, the implied condition of the marriage is not met, then you are entitled to recover the ring or its value,”  according to the Ohio State Bar.

Does the Breakup Matter?

Some courts will consider the breakup as a legitimate reason to pick who gets to keep the ring. For example, the receiver of the conditional gift may have been ready for a wedding holding their end of the bargain yet the wedding could have been called off by the giver of the ring. In this case, it seems fair to let the receiver keep the gift mainly because they had intentions of keeping their promise. On the other hand, if the marriage was broken because the receiver was unfaithful the giver has every right to call of the wedding and get back their gift.

Other courts don’t consider the terms of the breakup at all. They believe the giver should always get their gift back if the engagement is called off.

Ring for Another Purpose?

Are you planning on getting engaged on a holiday like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or even their birthday? If you are, beware. The ring will be considered a gift, since you are giving it to them on a “gift giving” holiday. That means that no matter how the breakup occurred, or who broke off the engagement, they still keep the ring.

So, what do you think? In the case of a broken engagement, should the ring be returned no matter what? Let us know what you think in the comments!