Who Gets the Engagement Ring When the Wedding is Called Off?

The three rings of marriage are the engagement ring, the wedding ring, and the suffering. -Anonymous

Engagements and weddings are part of life. However, some engagements do not result in weddings. When two people are engaged, but the engagement is canceled, those two people often need to determine who is entitled to keep the engagement ring, if any such ring was given.

I have written extensively on this issue over the past few months. First, I published a Legal Guide on Avvo, “Who Keeps the Engagement Ring in Tennessee?” which addresses Tennessee laws surrounding ownership of the engagement ring when a wedding is called off. Second, I published an article on Primer Magazine, part of the Legally Speaking series, “Legally Speaking: Who Gets the Engagement Ring if the Wedding is Called Off?” which surveys the various approaches that courts use to decide ownership of an engagement ring when the wedding is called off.

In short, the ownership of an engagement ring is relatively easy to determine. Every state has adopted on the approaches laid out in my Primer article. For review, the primary approaches adopted by state courts are:

  • Conditional Gift – An engagement ring is considered a gift conditioned upon marriage between the parties. If the condition does not occur, i.e., if the parties do not marry, then the gift is not completed and ownership of the ring reverts to the individual who gave (and presumably purchased) the ring.
  • Conditional Gift with Fault Considerations – An engagement ring is still considered a conditional gift. However, if the individual who gave the ring is at fault for ending the relationship, he is not entitled to a return of the engagement ring, even if the condition upon which the gift was given never occurred
  • Unconditional Gift – An engagement ring is considered a simple gift, which becomes property of the recipient once the gift is completed.

However, simply because legal ownership of the engagement ring is easy to determine does not mean that it is easy to recover the ring. For example, if the man is entitled to return of the ring, but the woman has possession of the ring, she might not hand it over simply because the man claims he has a legal right to the ring.

If an individual is entitled to legal possession of an engagement ring, but the party in control of the ring refuses to hand it over, the individual entitled to possession of the ring has a right to file an action to recover the ring. The appropriate action varies by state.

In Tennessee, an individual would need to file an “Action to Recover Personal Property,” in which the individual bringing suit could clearly lay out its claim for the ring. If the individual bringing the action is indeed entitled to ownership of the ring, the court will enter an order stating as much or award a judgment in an amount equal to the value of the ring.

If you would like to read more on ownership of an engagement ring in Tennessee, please read the Legal Guide posted on Avvo.

If you would like to read more on different approaches that state courts take in addressing ownership of an engagement ring, please read the Article posted on Primer.

Scott