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Broken Engagement: Who Gets The Ring?

The planning was underway.

It was going to be the most beautiful day of your life, and the wedding bells were gearing up to ring in celebration of your beautiful union in sacred matrimony.

Then a big crash happened causing your broken engagement. Whether it was money issues, future in-law problems, or just old-fashioned cold feet, a broken engagement can be a very painful and confusing experience.

There certainly is an adjustment period to the new reality of not joining your lives together. This time involves sorting through both the emotional layers and practicalities of the situation. Who takes the loss on the non-refundable deposits? How do you split any assets you have acquired? Last but not least, who gets the engagement ring?

The queen of etiquette, Emily Post, says a ring should always be returned when the engagement is broken.

Although I completely agree with Ms. Post’s view, there may be other circumstances involved when that would not be the case. For instance, if the ring is an heirloom piece, a family member’s, to be used as compensation for expenses of the cancelled wedding, or mutually agreed upon by the former couple.

However, you may be surprised to know that the law trumps etiquette every time!

Although courts vary on this issue, who keeps the ring primarily depends on how that particular court classifies the gift, and sometimes on the reasons behind the broken engagement.

Engagement ring as a gift.

The law requires three elements to constitute a gift.

  • The giver’s intent to give the item as a gift;
  • The giver’s actual giving of the gift to the receiver; and
  • The receiver’s acceptance of the gift.

In most cases involving revoked gifts, where all three requirements were shown, the court held that the given item was a gift, and the receiver got to keep the item.

Engagement ring as a conditional gift.

Conditional gifts are the exception to the rule that gifts cannot be revoked if given properly. Though the receiver may be able to prove that the engagement ring was a gift, the ring could still be returned to the giver if the court considers the engagement ring a conditional gift.

A conditional gift is one where the giver gives the gift to the receiver with the expectation that some future event or action will take place. If the agreed-upon event does not occur or the agreed-upon condition is not met, then the gift-giver has the right to get the gift back. The majorities of courts classify engagement rings as a conditional gift, and award the engagement ring to the giver in broken engagement cases.

Engagement ring as compensation.

Though courts do not consider the actual acceptance of the proposal as satisfying the condition of a conditional gift, there have been cases that show that a ring can qualify as compensation. As long as both parties understood that the ring was being given as compensation.

Fault-based approach.

Some courts use the fault-based approach and treat the whole engagement transaction like a contract. The engagement ring is a symbol of the planned marriage. Just like in a broken contract, a broken engagement means that the parties were unable to fulfill the elements of the agreement and each should be restored to their previous position. This means that the giver would be awarded the engagement ring in a broken engagement.

Fault-based approach when the reasons for the broken engagement are considered.

Some courts hold that it is not fair for the person who caused the broken engagement to keep the engagement ring. This approach is called “fault-based” and where the receiver is the cause of the broken engagement, the engagement ring will be awarded to the giver.

No-fault approach.

The courts that follow this approach do not care who is at fault for the broken engagement. They view the relationship as private and therefore none of their business. If the engagement is broken, the giver gets the ring back, regardless of who or why.

Since all of the states have different approaches, be sure to research which approach your own state follows so a broken engagement does not also mean a court battle!

Read more posts by Bree Maresca-Kramer, M.A., nationally recognized relationship expert, acclaimed relationship & life coach, talk radio show host, relationship expert & pop culture analyst columnist. Bree blogs for JenningsWire.