Thomas E. Little

The Murky Waters of Failed Engagements

An engagement is an exciting time in a soon-to-be-married couple’s life. The proposal’s been nailed down, both parties are in agreement and the prospect of happily ever after makes the time that much more special. However, sometimes things come to an end before they officially begin, as is the case with broken engagements. When engagements fail, emotions run amuck and turn a once-happy time into a hurtful and puzzling situation. Still, during the process of picking up the pieces and moving on, couples must answer this question: who gets the engagement ring?

The fact of the matter is that there is no set law pertaining to this question, and court decisions can vary from state to state. However, the answer has a lot to do with how courts view the ring.

Who Gets the Engagement Ring: In a Perfect World

In a perfect world, the parties involved in a broken engagement would be able to easily decide who gets the engagement ring. If everyone followed “proper” etiquette, the answer to this question could be one of the following:

  • If the ring-receiver called off the engagement, the ring-giver should keep the ring.
  • If the ring-giver called off the engagement, the ring-receiver should be the one who gets the engagement ring.
  • If the ring is a family heirloom, the ring-giver should keep it and give the other party some sort of compensation.

As you know, we don’t live in a perfect world, and there are many factors that keep the above scenarios from playing out in such a cut-and-dry manner. This being the case, courts oftentimes have to step in and decide who gets the engagement ring.

Who Keeps the Ring: According to the Courts

In the United States, there is no set law that decides to who gets the engagement ring following a breakup. It all depends on how state courts view the ring. Below are a few ways courts can classify engagement rings.

  • Conditional gift – A conditional gift requires the receiver to follow through with some sort of expectation or protocol (e.g., getting married). If the receiver does not follow through with the condition, the court will most likely allow the ring-giver to keep the ring. This is generally the way it goes in the state of Texas; however it depends on who calls off the engagement. If the ring-giver is the one who calls off the engagement, the court may allow the receiver to keep the ring.
  • Traditional gift –  For a gift to be deemed a traditional gift, the giver must have the intent to give it as a gift; the giver must actually give it to the receiver; and the receiver must accept the gift. If all these things take place, the receiver will likely be the one who keeps the engagement ring.
  • Pledge – A pledge is a promise to uphold some type of deal. When the court views an engagement ring as a pledge (i.e., a promise to get married) and marriage does not take place, it will oftentimes allow the ring-giver to keep the ring.
  • Consideration ­­– Some state courts view an engagement ring as a consideration (i.e., an exchanged value in contract law) for a binding contract. If marriage does not occur, the contract is considered breached, and the ring-receiver would most likely have to return the ring to the giver.

These are just a handful of ways state courts can classify engagement rings. However, there are some other factors to take into consideration:

  • Heirloom engagement ring – If an engagement ring is a family heirloom, courts will likely allow the ring-giver to keep it.
  • Special occasion – If the ring-giver gives the receiver an engagement ring on a special occasion (e.g., birthday or Christmas), courts may view it as a traditional gift. Therefore, the ring-receiver would likely be the one who gets the engagement ring following a breakup.

If you are currently facing a legal issue concerning to who gets to keep the ring after a failed engagement, don’t hesitate to call the family attorneys at Hayes, Berry, White & Vanzant at (940) 387-3518, or contact us here. We will be more than happy to schedule a consultation and offer our legal expertise to help you settle your case!