You've found your lifelong mate and you're ready to get married. Congratulations! It's an exciting time in your life. Hopefully, it's smooth sailing for you.
Unfortunately, things don't go as planned for everyone, and for one reason or another, the wedding is cancelled. Often, when this happens, the couple is left asking: Who gets the ring? More often than not, the person who gave the ring is entitled to get it back. But, the laws vary from state to state, so that's not always the case.
Of Gifts & Blame
Most states, but not all, have laws dealing specifically with engagement rings and other items given to another person when marriage is proposed. The laws are either in the state's code or statutes or in decisions made by the state's courts.
Let's assume that you that you gave an engagement ring to your fiancee. Depending on where you live, one of three methods will be used to determine if your fiancee has to give back the ring.
It was an Outright Gift
In some states, an engagement ring is a gift, and once given, it can't be taken back. Some courts treat all engagement rings as gifts - no matter when, where or how it was given. Montana follows this rule.
Other courts look at the circumstances of when a ring is given. For instance, if you gave your fiancee the ring as a Christmas, Valentine's Day or birthday present, a court may call it a gift and let your fiancee keep it.
Either way, your fiancee will have to prove it was in fact a gift by showing:
- You intended to make a gift
- You actually gave it to her, and
- She accepted it
If she can prove these things she'll probably be allowed to keep the ring if you're in a state like Montana.
The Ring was a Conditional Gift
In the vast majority of states, an engagement ring is a conditional gift. This is gift given with the expectation that a certain event will happen in the future. Both giver and receiver agree on what that event actually is. If the event doesn't happen, the gift "fails" and the receiver has the right to take back the gift.
If you live in a state that follows this rule, such as New York, your fiancee has to return the ring to you when the enjoyment is broken off. The actual marriage is the condition on which the ring was given. So, since there was no wedding and no marriage, the gift failed.
In many states, including New York and Pennsylvania, it doesn't matter if you or your fiancee broke-off the engagement - the ring belongs to you.
Sometimes Fault Matters
In states like California, who gets the ring depends on who broke-off the engagement. So, if your fiancee calls off the wedding, she has to give the ring back to you. The same is true - in California, at least - if you both agree to call it off.
As a general rule, in states like this, you lose the ring if you cancel the engagement. An exception might come into play if you can show you had good reason to call off the engagement and so the cancellation was actually your fiancee's fault. For instance, if you cancel the wedding after discovering your fiancee was unfaithful to you, a court may order her to return the ring.
Getting the Ring Back
Hopefully, your fiancee gives the ring back with no fight or hassle. That doesn't always happen, though. One way around the problem is to have a prenuptial or premarital agreement explaining who's entitled to the ring if the wedding is cancelled - or if you get married but later divorce.
Absent those things, you may need to file a lawsuit against your fiancee to get the ring back. Depending on the value of the ring, you may be able to file a suit in small claims court. This usually isn't an option if the ring is worth more than $2,000, though. It's probably best to contact a lawyer if that's the case.
The ring you bought was a sign of your love and commitment, as well as an investment in your future. Don't be afraid to do what you can to get it back if the engagement doesn't workout.
Questions for Your Attorney
- What's the law in my state on who gets the wedding ring when an engagement is broken?
- What can I do if my fiancee moves out of state after calling off the wedding and takes the ring I gave her?
- What might happen if I sell an engagement ring after the engagement is called off?