Who Keeps the Ring in the Case of a Broken Engagement?

Posted on 05/17/2010
In Family Law



wedding ringsWedding season is right around the corner, but unfortunately, not every engaged couple will make it down the aisle.

Whether it’s due to cheating or just cold feet, broken engagements occur for a variety of reasons.

But if an engagement is broken, does the former bride-to-be get to keep the ring, or must she return it to her former fiancé?

Broken Engagement Etiquette

Traditional etiquette experts are divided on the subject of broken engagements.

Miss Manners believes that “laws of etiquette absolutely require you to return an engagement ring when the engagement is broken, for whatever reason, and by however nasty a fiancé.”

However, many people believe that who keeps the ring is directly related to who calls off the engagement. If the bride-to-be calls off the wedding, she should return the ring, and by the same measure, if the groom-to-be calls off the wedding, he should let his former fiancée keep the ring.

Taking It to Court

Etiquette experts cannot even agree on who keeps the ring, so when a couple heads to court, the issue becomes even more confusing.

Many state courts consider an engagement ring to be a gift. For a court to consider an item to be a gift, it must fit some criteria:

  • The giver must intend for the item to be a gift.
  • The giver must deliver the property to the recipient.
  • The recipient must accept the item.

If the recipient can prove these criteria, the court considers the transaction to be legal.

If this were the case, almost all brides-to-be would be able to keep their engagement rings. However, many courts consider the gift of an engagement ring to be a conditional gift — meaning that until the wedding occurs, the gift is not final. If the bride-to-be calls off the wedding, some courts view it as the breaking of a contract — and since she broke the contract, she must return the ring.

Likewise, if the groom-to-be calls off the wedding and his former bride-to-be wants to keep the ring, the court could easily side with her. She could say that in exchange for the ring, she gave her intended spouse the option to wed her, like in a contract. The bride-to-be removed herself from the dating pool specifically for her partner — an agreement had been made.

Common Sense & Legal Precedent

Many courts do consider the reasons for the broken engagement. If one of the parties involved was unfaithful to the other, many courts tend to side with the party who was jilted.

Then there are some courts who agree with Miss Manners — the engagement was broken, and the party who purchased the ring should get to keep it.

If the parties involved in a broken engagement are amicable and an agreement about the ring can be reached outside of court, it is best to do it that way. While there will almost certainly be hurt feelings, common sense should come into play — it would be a kind gesture to return a ring that has been in the family for years, and letting a party keep a ring after the other party had been cheating seems only right.

Broken engagements are painful experiences, but going to court can be a long and expensive process. It’s usually best if it can be avoided.


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