When an engagement is broken, a typical dispute emerges as to who keeps the ring. One partner may have given the other an engagement ring in that circumstance. Since these can be worth a lot of money, it can lead to a debate over who gets to keep it after the break-up. The answer to this hinges on the rules for that particular jurisdiction.

It depends on whether they treat the ring as a:

  • Promise: Some courts consider a ring part of a promise to marry. In such cases, the giver of the ring might be able to keep the ring if the court finds the promise final upon marriage.
  • Gift: Some states consider engagement rings a gift, meaning it immediately becomes the recipient’s property. They would then keep the ring in the event of a break-up.
  • Implied Gift: Here, the court would choose based on which party was more responsible for the break-up.

What Governs the Property Rights of Unmarried Couples?

While the specific rules differ from state to state, the fundamental legal principles that regulate the property rights of unmarried couples can be described as stated below:

  • Laws governing married couples who divorce do not apply to unmarried couples who separate: Exceptions include unmarried couples living in a state that recognizes common law marriage and who qualify under their state rules or those who qualify as domestic partners in some states and;
  • Each unmarried partner is presumed to own their property and debts unless you have intentionally combined your assets, for example, by opening a joint account or putting both names on a deed to your home: This differs from married couples, for whom any debt or asset acquired by either spouse during marriage will typically be considered jointly owned in the event of dissolution, however, unless the parties signed a prenuptial agreement modifying these rules.

The legal presumption of independent property ownership of unmarried partners can change if there is a written agreement to share assets. In many states, a proven oral or implied-from-the-situation agreement to share assets can also be enforced by the courts. Where it is determined that an unmarried couple’s assets are jointly owned (for instance, when both names are on a deed), the assets are considered to be owned in equal 50-50 shares.

The exception will be if there is proof of another agreement or, in some cases, where one partner made a more significant contribution and can prove it. The property aspects of your dispute will usually be handled by the business section of your state’s civil courts, just as though you were going through a business dissolution. This implies that in most places, you are not entitled to any special mediation services or expedited hearings, which are standard in divorce court.

When Is the Engagement Ring Considered a Gift?

Some courts hold that an engagement ring is a gift from the donor to the donee. If the courts consider that the ring is a gift, then the donee or the individual who received the gift does not have to return the ring even after a break up legally.

An engagement ring is considered a gift if:

  • The donor or person giving a ring has the intent to give a ring as a gift
  • The donor delivers the ring to the donee
  • The donee accepts the engagement ring

When courts use this concept, they state that when a person gets the ring as a gift because they accepted the proposal to consider marriage and an actual marriage or condition does not have to happen.

When Is the Engagement Ring Not Considered a Gift?

Even though the donee gives the gift to the donee to keep, which shows a sign that they are giving a gift, some courts consider that this gift is conditional. The condition is for a marriage ceremony to happen. A conditional gift means that until some future event happens, the gift is not accepted or is final. If the event does not happen, the gift will revert to the donor.

In other words, the person gives a ring to another as a condition for them to actually be married, and if they do marry, the ring becomes theirs, and if the marriage does not go through, the giver still retains title to the ring.

When Is the Engagement Ring Considered an Implied Conditional Gift?

Some states are fault-based states which means that the ring’s return depends on who broke up with who first. In these states, the ring is deemed an implied conditional gift, meaning that if one person breaks up the engagement, the other gets to keep the ring since they did not cause the break-up.

For example, say a woman is the one who breaks up the engagement. In that case, their partner can request the ring back since it was not their fault the engagement did not turn into a marriage. The bottom line is that whoever gets dumped gets to keep the ring.

What If the Parties Can’t Settle the Dispute?

In some cases, the parties may be able to resolve on their own the question of who gets to keep their ring. For example, they may be able to work out some property agreement or attend some mediation or negotiation sessions outside of court. Nevertheless, if this type of resolution is not feasible, the parties may need to file a claim in court.

From there, the judge will inspect the evidence to resolve the disposition of the ring. This may require some analysis of factors such as the length of the relationship, the ring’s price, and whether the ring is unique or irreplaceable (such as the case where the ring is a family heirloom). In some cases, the engagement ring issue is only part of a broader determination of the unmarried couple’s property rights.

What Other Factors Might Influence the Court’s Decision?

Although engagement ring disputes are typically based on fault or no-fault, there are a few other factors that may sway a court’s decision:

  • Family heirloom: If the ring originally belonged to the donor’s family, the donee should return it, as the donee no longer intends to join their family with the donor’s family.
  • Special occasion: If the ring was given during a special occasion, such as Christmas or a birthday, the ring might be treated like any other gift. Therefore, the ring belongs to the receiver, and they have no obligation to return it.
  • Prenuptial agreements: Prenuptial agreements are contracts made about property division before the couple is officially wed. Since the prenuptial agreement is a written contract, the agreement will supersede, or replace, the assumptions made from any oral agreements.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help Resolving an Engagement Ring Dispute?

Engagement rings can often be worth much financially and have sentimental value in some cases. You may need to hire a qualified family lawyer if you have a dispute involving engagement rings or other property in a premarital setting. Your attorney can represent you in court and help ensure that your interests are protected. Use LegalMatch today to find the right local family lawyer and start resolving your engagement ring dispute.