The Engagement is Off – Who Gets The Ring?


            A broken engagement is sad, painful and confusing — and then you argue over who gets to keep the ring. There is no one right answer. It depends on how the courts in your state classify the ring (i.e., a gift); and sometimes the courts will consider the reasons behind the broken engagement in reaching a decision.

Is it a gift…there are three elements that must be met to constitute a gift:

  1. The giver’s intent to give the item as a gift;
  2. The giver’s actual giving of the item to the receiver; and
  3. The receiver’s acceptance of the gift.

If all three elements were met, the courts have generally held that the given item was a gift, and the receiver got to keep the item.

Engagement Ring as a Conditional Gift…conditional gifts are an exception. Such gifts cannot be revoked if given properly. Even though a receiver may be able to prove that the ring was a gift, the engagement ring could be returned to the giver if the court found that the ring was a conditional gift. A conditional gift carries with it the expectation that a particular future event or outcome will occur. If the event does not occur or the agreed-upon condition is not met, then the giver of the gift has the right to have ownership of the gift. A majority of courts consider engagement rings as conditional gifts, and award the ring to the giver if the engagement is broken.

An argument can be made that simply answering the proposal satisfied the requisite conditions.  However, that argument is generally rejected. The courts that have held, instead, that the actual condition to be met is the marriage. Thus, if the engagement is broken and there is no marriage, the ring is returned to the giver. This is a “no-fault” approach, meaning that it does not matter who is responsible for the broken engagement.

Engagement Ring as Compensation…There have been cases where an engagement ring qualified as compensation. This can be true so long as both parties understood that the ring was being given as compensation. For example, a woman gave her fiancé money, in addition to working for her fiancé in his business.  The relationship ended; the engagement was broken; and the court awarded the woman the ring as compensation.

Fault-Based Approach – Contract Law…Some courts treat an engagement as a transaction/contract. Like a broken contract, a broken engagement means that the parties did not fulfill the terms of the contract. Therefore, each party should be restored to his/her previous position.  In this case, the giver would be awarded the ring.

Fault-Based Approach – Reasons for Broken Engagement Considered… The party who caused the broken engagement should not be allowed to keep the engagement ring. This position is still held by some courts; and is referred to as “fault-based”. Under this theory, the ring will be awarded to the giver.

No-Fault Approach – Reasons for Broken Engagement Not Considered… Courts that adhere to the no-fault approach do not care who caused the broken engagement or why. These courts have held that this is personal to the parties and the courts have no business getting involved in nasty, mud-slinging arguments. It is similar to the no-fault divorce approach of family law. Bottom line:  if the engagement is broken, the engagement ring goes to the giver.


If you need help with a broken engagement or any other family law matters call Motsinger Law & Mediation, PA for a consultation.