Through the heartache and distress of a broken engagement, some couples are faced with the decision regarding the engagement ring. Etiquette rules that an engagement ring should be returned when a wedding is called off regardless of who broke the engagement. There are likely many personal opinions about this depending upon who broke the engagement and under what circumstances. The legal system has its own opinions on this issue, though.
There are several considerations in regards to the engagement ring:
- Where you live
- How you received the engagement ring
- Who broke the engagement
States Where an Engagement Ring Must Be Returned
Many courts look at an engagement ring as a conditional gift that is given in expectation of marriage. Conditional means, "subject to one or more conditions or requirements being met or granted on certain terms." In such instances, if there is no marriage, then the engagement ring needs to be returned.
The courts also have held in these states that the reasoning for no-fault divorces holds for no-fault broken engagements so an engagement ring should always be returned regardless of who decided to call off the engagement.
Conditional Gift States
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
States Where an Engagement Ring May Be Kept
In these locales, an engagement ring is considered to be an implied conditional gift and the person who proposed (most often the man) breaks the engagement, he will not get the ring back unless the fiance forsakes the ring. If she breaks the engagement instead, he can request its return. Bottom line: If you get dumped, you get to keep the ring in certain states.
Implied Conditional Gift States
States Where an Engagement Ring Can Always Be Kept
Other courts have held the belief that an engagement ring is an unconditional gift, meaning "not subject to any conditions." Therefore, the ring does not need to be given back under any circumstances.
Unconditional Gift States
- Family heirloom engagement rings: If you are considering giving a family heirloom engagement ring, legal experts recommend having a prenuptial agreement that lists who will keep the engagement ring in the event of a break-up.
- Special days: If an engagement ring is given on a special day such as a birthday, Valentine's Day, Christmas, etc., many courts will not require the engagement ring to be returned.
This text should not be regarded as legal advice. Please consult an attorney familiar with marriage and family law and your own personal circumstances for legal advice regarding the return of an engagement ring.