Who keeps the engagement ring when a wedding is called off?

Date: Mar 14, 2016

A period of engagement is for many people a trial to test the relationship before entering into marriage. Sometimes things do not go smoothly and the wedding is called off. In cases like this, it is important to have meet with a divorce lawyer, who can help you with any legal issues that may arise. 

But what happens to the engagement ring? Does it stay with the party it was gifted to or is it to be returned?

Conditional gifting

Under common law, an engagement ring is considered a conditional gift and as such becomes the property of the receiver of the gift after the marriage has taken place. However, if a party receives a ring in contemplation of marriage and later breaks the engagement, they must return the ring. In some cases, the ring can be kept if there is a justification for breaking up the engagement, like, for example, abuse or violence on behalf of the other party.

If there is no justification for breaking up the engagement, the receiver of the gift is seen to have rejected the conditions of the gift and becomes a bailee of the item for as long as it is in their hands. They are responsible for looking after the ring and keeping it in good condition until it is returned. If the party who was given the ring disposes of it, for example by throwing it away after the engagement is broken off, they will need to return its value.

The parties can of course agree that the ring is to be kept by the party it has been gifted to. If the dispute arises at a later stage, the court may need to be involved. This is of course if the ring is worth fighting for. If the parties broke the engagement by consent, but there was no consent as to what happens to the ring, it must be returned.

If the dispute regarding an  engagement  ring arises within family law proceedings for the division of property between a de-facto or a married couple, the issue regarding the ring will become part of property settlement and will be resolved according to the family law principles for the division of the parties' property existent at the time.

If you have any issues relating to your relationship with your current or forner partner, give Craddock Murray Neumann Lawyers a call.