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When an engagement ends, couples argue over a number of issues, such as deposits made while planning the wedding. The most hotly contested item, though, seems to be who gets to keep the engagement ring. Should it remain with the person to whom it was given, the donee, or does it rightfully belong to the one who gave it, the donor? Courts have made various contradictory judgments regarding these questions, and the answer largely depends on what precedent was set in your own state.
Is an Engagement Ring a Gift?
Typically, courts consider the legality of a gift on the basis of three criteria:
- The donor's intention that the object given was a gift
- Whether the donor delivered the item to the donee
- Whether the donee accepted the item
If the donee demonstrates that all three criteria were met, the court will decide the item is legally a gift and grant ownership of said item to the donee. The exception to this is when the gift is considered a conditional gift.
Is an Engagement Ring a Conditional Gift?
Most courts consider an engagement ring a conditional gift. This means that the gift was given in expectation of a future event. Until that future event occurs, the gift isn't final. An exception to this ruling is the Supreme Court of Montana, which, in the case of Albinger v. Harris (2002), declared that an engagement ring is an unconditional, completed gift.
Does it Matter Who Ended the Engagement?
Though generally considered a conditional gift and therefore the rightful property of the giver, the recipient may be able to keep the ring in states where the courts consider arguments as to who was at fault for the breakup. Some courts consider an engagement ring to be a symbol of the intent to marry, similar to any other legal contract. If the donor breaks the engagement, then the donee gets to keep the ring, as decided in Spinnell v. Quigley (1990). However, if the donee initiated the breakup, or was unfaithful to the donor, then the donor keeps the ring, as in Pavlic v. Vogtsberger (1957).
In some states, judges approach the decision of who keeps the engagement ring in the same way they consider a no-fault divorce case. It doesn't matter who ended the engagement or why, the ring is returned to the donor. In Lindh v. Surman (1999) the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decreed that the donor always receives the ring back after a broken engagement, regardless of who initiated the breakup or why. The Supreme Court of Kansas agrees, and feels that it is none of the court's business why an engagement ends and refuses to meddle in these cases. More than 20 other states agree with this no-fault ruling.
Talk to a Lawyer
If you've recently experienced a broken engagement and have questions about who rightfully owns the engagement ring, contact an attorney with experience in divorce and family law to schedule a free consultation. He or she can advise you on the precedent set in your own state and explain your options.