When a couple plans to get married, a ring is often given in the anticipation of the marriage going forward. The general consensus is that once the couple gets married, the recipient gets to keep the ring as a gift. But, what happens if the relationship falls apart before the marriage
Luckily, courts across the nation have had plenty of opportunities to address this issue.
An engagement ring as an irrevocable gift
Some courts will treat an engagement ring as an irrevocable gift when the circumstances meet the following 3 requirements:
- Intent – The giver intended the ring to be a gift
- Delivery – The receiver actually received the ring
- Acceptance – The receiver accepted the ring
When these three elemental requirements are met, the ring becomes the legal property of the recipient and does not have to be given back if the marriage does not go forward.
An engagement ring as a conditional gift
Other courts will treat an engagement ring as a conditional gift, meaning that it only legally becomes irrevocable after the couple marries.
We generally don’t think of gifts as being subject to conditions, but there are gifts that are conditioned upon something happening. When this is the case, the gift may be revoked if the condition upon which the gift was given is not met.
Wedding rings are widely considered to be tokens of an anticipated marriage. If the marriage does not go forward, then the condition upon which the ring was given has not been met and the ring must go back to the giver.
An engagement as a contract
Others states will view the engagement itself as a contract between two individuals to get married at some point in time. In this case, the ring is seen as a symbol of the agreed upon contract.
In terms of contract law, this means that if the marriage does not happen, a breach of contract will have occurred and both parties must be restored to their previous condition. Thus, the engagement ring must be returned to the giver if the marriage does not go forward.
How states vary on the issue
States vary in the way they treat engagement rings. For example, while Tennessee’s Supreme Court has ruled that an engagement ring is an unconditional gift, and thus irrevocable, the state of Connecticut has consistently ruled that an engagement ring is a conditional gift and must be returned when the relationship ends, regardless of fault.
Connecticut’s way of dealing with the return of an engagement ring is referred to as a no-fault approach, as opposed to a fault based approach, which is followed by other states. States that follow a fault-based approach hold that the person responsible (at fault) for the breakup forfeits his or her right to the engagement ring and the jilted party get to keep the ring.
Other states, like California, take the decision out of the court’s hands and have a specific legal statute saying, for example, that if a ring is given in anticipation of marriage and the marriage doesn’t go forward, then the ring goes back to the giver if he or she wants it back.
The point here is that the law isn’t the same in every state. What happens to the ring in one state may be different than what happens to it in another.
Contact a local family law attorney
If you have any concerns as to whether the marriage you have planned will go through, you need to find out where the laws in your state stand on the issue of returning an engagement ring. To do so, contact a local family law attorney. Usually, there will be some case that has been decided by your state’s Supreme Court that he or she can reference when advising you.