Matrimonial and Family Law Blog

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Broken Engagement – Who Gets The Ring?

You and your partner are happily engaged and have spent months tirelessly planning a beautiful and elegant wedding.  The invitations have been sent out to all of your friends and family and the honeymoon is finalized.  To your shock, your partner tells you that the relationship is over and cancels the wedding.  Who gets the diamond ring? 

Every jurisdiction has certain elements that it uses to determine which party is legally entitled to the ring.  Sometimes, the court’s decision will turn on the issue of whether the engagement ring was a “gift.”  In evaluating the situation, the court will assess the “intent” of the parties, the “act” of giving the ring, as well as the “acceptance” by the receiver of the ring.  The general rule is that a giver of the ring cannot revoke the gift unless the gift was “conditional.”  Here, the condition would be the marriage, the triggering future occurrence or action that is settled upon between partners.  In most cases, the giver is awarded the return of the ring.  

Nevertheless, there have been alternative outcomes in varying jurisdictions.  Courts have ruled just the opposite, that a gift was an “unconditional” gift.  Yet, others have ruled that the ring was “compensation” if both parties thought it to be so.  A ring might be classified as “compensation” if a spouse provides financial assets or work to the giving spouse in return for it. 

These theories may fall under either a “fault-based” or “no-fault” approach.  The “engagement transaction” is typically considered to be a “contract” under one of the fault-based methods.  Pursuant to this theory, the marriage is considered to be an essential “element” to the contract.  If the marriage does not occur, each party should be returned to the status quo—the return of the ring upon the failure to marry.  This approach generally views a “broken engagement” as the equivalent of a “broken contract.” 

Another fault-based approach focuses on “who caused the broken engagement.”  Under a fairness lens, for example, the receiver should be obliged to return the ring if he or she was the party who prompted the termination of the engagement.  On the other hand, the court may be reluctant to intercept and inquire into the private reasons behind a failed engagement.  Thus, under a no-fault approach, the ring should be returned notwithstanding the culpability of either party.  New York is likely to follow this approach.  Seek the advice of a licensed family law attorney to determine what your obligations are in this type of situation.  

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