January 22, 2021

Who Gets the Engagement Ring?

I’ve worked with hundreds of divorcing clients fighting about all types of personal property.  Sometimes the monetary value is high, like the client who had an antique car collection.  Other times the value is emotional – a frozen fertilized egg or deceased child’s artwork. For either reason, or both, disposition of the engagement ring can be a source of conflict. 

More often than not, in a traditional marriage, the wife gets to keep the ring.  But there is no specific law or rule guarantying that outcome.  For couples leaving the decision to a court, as for other items of personal property, the law gives the judge a list of factors to consider. For example, if the marriage is of a short duration or the ring was in the husband’s family for generations, a judge might be persuaded to award it to the husband. In another situation the wife’s overwhelming contribution to the breakdown of the marriage might be enough to tip the scales in the husband’s favor.  But maybe not.

Conflict about who gets the ring is even more common when the couple splits up after the engagement but before the wedding.  Here, there is a specific legal principle – since the ring is a gift in contemplation of marriage, if there is no marriage, then the ring must be returned.  Even if it is the man, in the traditional situation, who breaks the engagement.  However, a recent case shows that the law will recognize an exception in the right case. There, several years passed after the ring was given by the intended husband and although the couple bought a home and had a child together, marriage was barely mentioned.  Their relationship was tempestuous and even after they broke up he didn’t immediately demand the ring back.  The court found that the condition attached to the ring – marriage – had long been abandoned by the intended husband before he finally demanded its return.  The intended wife had sold the ring and so she was allowed to keep the sales proceeds. 

This article first appeared in the January 14, 2021 edition of The Cheshire Citizen.

« Back to all news