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Who Gets the Ring? What Happens after a Broken Engagement

When an engagement ends in a breakup, partners can be left with daunting tasks such as cancelling wedding plans, notifying family and friends, and grappling with emotional fallout. An important part of this post-engagement activity is to determine what happens to assets like the engagement ring. Laws pertaining to engagement rings vary by state and can be governed by common law, family law, and statutory provisions.

Is the Ring a Gift?

Traditionally, an engagement ring is considered a gift, from a giver (called a donor) to a recipient (a donee). Under the law, a gift generally must have three components: the giver’s intent to give the gift, the giving of the gift, and the recipient’s acceptance of the gift. As a broad rule, legal gifts don’t usually have to be given back once given. However, some courts consider an engagement ring to be a conditional gift. As a legal conditional gift, the giving of the ring isn’t a final gift until some condition occurs, and up until that happens (and if it never happens), the giver can ask for it back. If that is the case, ex-fiancés must argue what condition “sealed” the gift – was it one partner’s acceptance of the other’s proposal, or was it marriage, which never occurred?

Decisions on these issues vary by state. In Florida, however, courts generally have decided that the engagement ring is a conditional gift that becomes a true gift on the condition of marriage. If marriage never occurs, the recipient has no property right to it.

Who Was Responsible for the Breakup?

Again, states differ on what should happen with an engagement ring depending on which partner, the giver or the recipient, was responsible for the breakup. Some courts apply the principle of no-fault divorce (in which neither spouse in a marriage has the burden of proving that the other is responsible for the failure of the marriage) to broken engagements, declaring that which party broke up with the other is immaterial.

In Florida, however, it does matter (somewhat) which party is responsible for breaking the engagement- if the recipient breaks off the engagement, or if it is mutual, courts will consider the condition on the conditional gift unfulfilled, and will order its return. However, if the giver breaks the engagement, some Florida courts have stated that the recipient may keep the gift, as he or she was not responsible for the failure to fulfill the condition (marriage) attached to the gift of the ring.

What about the Family Heirloom?

Some partners give one another family heirloom engagement rings. However, the fact that the ring is a family heirloom does not typically change the rules applied by Florida courts. If keeping possession of a family heirloom is a concern, a written contract or a prenuptial agreement may help ensure that the heirloom stays in the family even if the relationship goes south.

Do you still have questions about engagement rings, divorce, marriage, or family law? At Schwartz | White, our qualified Boca Raton family law attorneys are available to answer your questions. Call 561-391-9943 today for a consultation.

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