If the Engagement Ends Who Gets the Engagement Ring?

engagement ringThey say a diamond is a girl’s best friend which may be very true.  However, in several civil cases brought to court each year, the diamond may quickly become the best friend of the guy who bought it and wants it returned because the engagement is off.

It is estimated a man spends at least three months salary on the purchase of a ring.  Many people believe the question of who keeps the ring is directly related to who calls off the engagement, but actually, this is not the case.

What is the law in Ohio concerning what happens to the engagement ring when the parties are no longer planning to get married?

While several theories of recovery have been proposed over the years—filing a writ of replevin, unjust enrichment, conversion, suing for breach of contract, seeking monetary damages or taking a fault-based approach–current decisions are going in the direction of modern divorce—employing a no-fault resolution.

Under the theory of unjust enrichment, the plaintiff could prevail if he established that he conferred a benefit on the defendant (the bride-to-be), that she knew of that benefit, and retained that benefit “under circumstances where it would be unjust for her to retain that benefit” under contract law.

Under the theory of conversion of property, the plaintiff is only required to prove that he owned the property, that the defendant exercised dominion over it and that taking and keeping possession of the property, once the condition of giving it failed (marriage), is inconsistent with the plaintiff’s rights.

In the past, some courts have taken a fault-based approach to a broken engagement.  If one of the parties was found to have “unjustifiably terminated” the relationship, that party could not recover the ring.

Another novel argument that has been raised takes the position that the bride-to-be, in exchange for the ring, gave her intended spouse the option to wed her, forming a contract between the parties.  Thus, the engaged woman agreed to remove herself from the dating pool specifically for her partner for as long as the engagement lasted, and she should keep the ring.

Other bride-to-be’s have contended they should keep the ring as a reimbursement of expenditures they made in planning the wedding.  Some claim the ring was given as a Christmas or birthday present and should be considered like any other present received on that occasion.

However, the Ohio rulings in these matters of the heart and the pocketbook are currently leaning toward none of the above.  The “no-fault” approach seems to be the desirable one as it is difficult to determine who is at fault and whether a person’s reasons for deciding not to marry someone are “justifiable.”  It is also feared that the fault-based approach, with each party blaming the other, may needlessly tie up the courts in acrimonious legal battles.

Most states consider an item to be a gift if the giver intended the item to be a gift and the giver delivers the property to the recipient, and the recipient accepts it.  Not so with an engagement ring.

Most of the districts in Ohio have provided that an engagement ring is a gift given in specific contemplation of marriage and is considered a conditional gift that should be returned upon non-fulfillment of the marriage condition, regardless of fault. (Cooper v. Smith, 155 Ohio App.3d218, 2003-Ohio-6083).

However, Ohio courts do not give the same treatment to other gifts, no matter how lavish, bestowed during the engagement and ensuing courtship.

Only the engagement ring is viewed as having symbolic significance of a couple’s promise to marry.  Other gifts from the groom-to-be made to his intended or vice versa or to any of their relatives are considered to be absolute, irrevocable inter vivos (made between the living) gifts which are not recoverable unless the donor expresses an intent that the gift be conditioned on a subsequent marriage or some written agreement is made between the parties.

It is also important to note that if an engagement ring is a family heirloom, there should be a writing between the parties to this effect. The groom-to-be should also have proof of the ring’s value.  One man claimed his fiancée was so distraught when they ended their engagement that she threw the ring in the river.

A jeweler can provide an appraised value on the ring and the insurer can also verify its value.  With current markup, the value of a ring may be less than what was paid for it.

As one can see broken engagements can be difficult.  Hopefully, you will never experience a broken engagement, divorce or dissolution.  However, if you do, or know someone who is going through this kind of situation, remember there are experienced divorce attorneys at the Ohio law firm of Slater & Zurz LLP who can help with these trying situations and with child custody issues.

Please call us at 1-888-760-8958 for a free consultation or send a message from the website at dissolutionanddivorce.com.

Tell us what is going on in your life and we’ll do our best to help.

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About slaterzurz

Slater & Zurz LLP is an Ohio law firm of highly experienced and respected attorneys. Over the last 40 years, we have developed a reputation for getting positive results for clients. We've been trusted with handling over 20,000 personal injury cases and our clients have received more than $120,000,000.

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