Who Gets the Engagement Ring?

A Quick Background On Gifts

Usually when a valid legal gift (also known as inter vivos gifts) is made from one person to another, the gift is irrevocable. Unlike when you were a child, there may be “no take backs” allowed. If a legal dispute arises about whether or not a legally valid gift was given, three parts must be shown. The three parts of a legal gift are 1) donative intent, 2) delivery and 3) acceptance.Donative intent means that the giver meant to give the gift to the receiving party. The giver did not give the gift with the intention of getting something in return. The person who received the gift has the burden to show that the giver intended to give the gift as a gift.

who gets the engagement ring

The gift must also be delivered to the recipient. Delivery can happen through one of three ways. Those three ways are 1) actual delivery, 2) symbolic delivery or 3) constructive delivery. Actual delivery is just when the giver physically gives the actual gift to the recipient. Symbolic delivery happens when the gift is something intangible. Instead of giving the intangible gift, something else that symbolizes the gift is then delivered instead. An example of this is giving stock certificates printed on paper. Stock shares of a company are intangible, but printed stock certificates symbolize the stock shares. The last form of delivery is constructive delivery. That happens when the giver gives the means of controlling the gift to the recipient. For example if one were to give the gift of a car, they may hand over the keys to the car to the willing recipient. The car keys give the recipient the means of controlling the car.

The last part of a valid legally binding gift is acceptance. The person receiving the gift must accept the gift. Usually courts presume acceptance because it is rare for someone to turn down a gift.

What Does This Have to do With Engagement Rings?

A long-held tradition in our culture is that when one person proposes marriage to another, they often times give the gift of an engagement ring. Unfortunately, not all marriage proposals lead to marriage. Unforeseen circumstances or a change of heart can lead one of the two people involved to cancel the engagment. What then happens to the engagement ring involved? Was the engagement ring just a regular legally binding gift? Or was it something else that may allow the ring to be returned to the giver? States generally follow one of three ways of solving the problem of who gets to keep the engagement ring if the relationship dissolves.

A Regular Irrevocable Gift

In some states when one person proposes marriage to another with an engagement ring and the engagement is broken off, the receiver of the engagement ring still gets to keep the ring. An example illustrating this could be;

Andy proposes marriage to Sandy with an expensive engagement ring. Sandy excitedly accepts the proposal. Sandy becomes a bit of a jerk and dumps Andy. Andy then tries to get the expensive ring back, but the court rules that Sandy gets to keep the engagement ring.
In this example, the court is ruling that when one person gives an engagement ring when they propose marriage, they are giving a legal gift that is not revocable. It does not matter who caused the relationship to dissolve when deciding who gets to keep the engagement ring. All three parts of a valid legal gift were met. First, donative intent was met when Andy gave the ring to Sandy as part of the proposal. Second, there was actual delivery since Andy physically gave the actual ring to Sandy. Lastly, Sandy accepted the gift of the ring along with the marriage proposal. Not all states agree with this though.

Conditional Gifts That Consider Fault

In some states, the gift of an engagement ring with a marriage proposal is seen as a conditional gift, and courts may look at who is at fault for causing the relationship to end. The gift of the engagement ring is made upon the condition of the marriage actually happening being met. Once the marriage takes place, the engagement ring gift becomes a regular legal gift and is irrevocable. However, if the relationship dissolves before the marriage takes place, courts consider who is at fault for ruining the relationship. Consider this example;

Andy proposes marriage to Sandy with an expensive engagement ring. Sandy excitedly accepts the proposal. Sandy becomes a bit of a jerk and dumps Andy. Andy then tries to get the expensive ring back. The court rules that Andy gets the engagement ring back.

In this example, since Sandy was the cause of the relationship dissolving, Andy receives the ring. Now compare that to the situation where we switch who was the jerk.

Andy proposes marriage to Sandy with an expensive engagement ring. Sandy excitedly accepts the proposal. Andy becomes a bit of a jerk and Sandy dumps Andy. Andy then tries to get the expensive ring back. The court rules that Sandy gets to keep the engagement ring.

Here, Sandy gets to keep the ring even though the precondition of the marriage happening was never met. That is because Andy is at fault for causing the relationship to end by becoming a jerk.

couple fighting

Arizona’s Way–A Conditional Gift With No Fault Considerations

The state of Arizona does not agree with the previous two ways. Instead in Arizona, engagement rings are seen as conditional gifts with no fault considerations. Under this approach, the court does not care who is at fault for the relationship dissolving. As long as the marriage does not take place, ownership of the ring reverts back to the giver of the ring. Even if the giver of the ring is to blame for the relationship ending, they still get the engagement ring back. For the example we will slightly change the previous example;

Andy proposes marriage to Sandy with an expensive engagement ring. Sandy excitedly accepts the proposal. Andy becomes a bit of a jerk and Sandy dumps Andy. Andy then tries to get the expensive ring back. The court rules that Andy gets the engagement ring back.

Even though Andy is the jerk in the example, he would still get to keep the ring. That is because the marriage never happened. For the engagement ring gift to be irrevocable, the precondition of the marriage would first have to take place. So for Sandy to get to keep the ring something like this would need to happen;

Andy proposes marriage to Sandy with an expensive engagement ring. Sandy excitedly accepts the proposal. The two of them then quickly get married. Sandy becomes a bit of a jerk and dumps Andy. Andy then tries to get the expensive ring back, but the court rules that Sandy gets to keep the engagement ring.

In this example, Sandy gets to keep the ring because the precondition of the marriage took place. Once the marriage took place, the gift of the engagement ring became irrevocable.

In Conclusion

Do you know of an engagement gone wrong or other contract dispute? We may be able to help return the valuable engagement ring to the rightful person. Visit Denton Peterson, P.C. or call to set up an appointment.

NOTICE: The preceding was written only for the purpose of information. The writing is not advice and does not create any privileged attorney-client relationship between Denton Peterson, P.C. and any reader. Readers are warned to consult with an attorney in Mesa before taking any potential legal actions.

Brad Denton, Arizona Business lawyerGuest Blog Approved By:

Denton Peterson, PC

1930 N. Arboleda, Suite 200
Mesa, AZ 85213

Office: 480-325-9900
Email: brad@dentonpeterson.com
Website: dentonpeterson.com