Two people fall in love, become engaged, and plan to get married. They exchange rings and plan a wedding date. However, before the marriage something happens and the engagement is called off. One of the partners agrees to return her engagement ring but the other refuses to return his ring. Must the ring be returned? The answer to this question depends primarily on whether the court follows the traditional rule regarding returns of engagement rings.
Under the traditional rule the answer to this question was no. An engagement ring was considered a gift which resulted in ownership of the ring being transferred from the donor to the donee. No conditions were imposed on the retention of such gifts. The new owner of the ring had no obligation to return a ring that was already his. An engagement ring was considered an unconditional completed gift.
Today, most courts reject the traditional rule and require that the ring be returned to the donor. The rationale is that an engagement ring is given in contemplation of marriage. The engagement ring is still considered a gift, but it is a "conditional" gift. If the partners decide not to get married, then the condition (i.e. marriage) for the gift is not fulfilled.
In order for there to be a gift, certain requirements must be met. First there must be delivery of the property. Usually delivery must be by physical transfer of the object itself, but constructive or symbolic delivery may suffice. Second, there must be present intent to transfer title of the property. Third, the donee must accept the gift.
Another important issue in determining whether engagement rings should be returned is whether the person who caused the break-up should get the ring. Some courts adopt the no-fault approach and will order the rings to be returned to their donors regardless of who was responsible for the failure of the engagement. Others will refuse to allow the person at fault to have the ring returned to him.
Thus, whether a donor of an engagement ring may retrieve the ring when the engagement fails depends on the laws of the court where the lawsuit is pending. If you find yourself in an engagement ring dispute, seek the assistance of a licensed attorney in your state to find out the best course of action for your situation.
- Property Law: Rules, Policies, and Practices; Joseph William Singer, J.D.; 2002