What Happens To Engagement Ring in Broken Engagement

Updated October 27, 2023
11 min read
What Happens To Engagement Ring in Broken Engagement

Introduction

When two people get engaged, it is with the intention that they will get married and spend the rest of their lives together. Sadly, this isn't always the case. Broken engagements frequently occur, which can be a challenging and emotionally upsetting time for both parties involved.

On top of these mental difficulties, there is also the question of who keeps the engagement ring following the separation. Some couples can work this out amicably, whereas others need to rely on engagement ring laws to help decide which individual keeps the ring.

In this article, we examine the engagement ring laws by state and who is legally entitled to keep the ring if the wedding is called off. As you'll discover, many courts have different beliefs on this matter.

What Happens To the Engagement Ring in a Broken Engagement?

In a broken engagement, one person is permitted to keep the ring. There is no law in place saying that either the giver or the receiver must keep it; if the couple can make a decision amicably, then so be it.

If the separation is amicable, the pair may reach a mutual agreement regarding who keeps it. However, many broken engagements do not end on good terms. In these cases, there might be conflict over who keeps the ring. The couple may turn to the courts for assistance if this cannot be decided privately. The courts will then legally determine who is entitled to keep the engagement ring.

To help the courts reach an appropriate outcome, there are engagement ring laws in place. A primary consideration is what type of gift the engagement ring is legally defined as. In some cases, the courts will also consider why the relationship has ended and who, if anyone, is responsible when choosing the best course of action.  

Who Keeps the Engagement Ring?

According to engagement ring laws, it's crucial for the court to determine how the ring is classified. Legally, the engagement ring will either be classified as (1) an outright or unconditional gift or (2) a conditional gift. 

Let's look at when a ring is considered an unconditional gift versus a conditional gift.

Engagement rings as unconditional gifts

When an engagement ring is given as an outright gift, this legally means that the recipient gets to keep the ring regardless of whether the marriage takes place. According to the return of engagement ring law, the ring has to meet three criteria to be considered an outright gift. These three criteria are as follows:

  1. The giver wholly intended to give a ring to the recipient as a gift;

  2. The giver carried out the act of giving the gift to the recipient;

  3. The recipient accepts the engagement ring.

As a general rule, when the above conditions are met and the court considers the ring an outright gift, it is usually understood that the receiver gets to keep the engagement ring.

The ring's owner is left unchanged even if the wedding is called off. This is true even in cases in which the ring has been revoked. However, very few U.S. states view engagement rings as unconditional gifts. Montana appears to be the exception. In the Treasure State, the recipient always gets to keep the ring, regardless of who broke the engagement.

Engagement rings as conditional gifts

On the other hand, a conditional gift is given with the intention that the recipient can keep it so long as they fulfill a future condition. One of the most basic examples of this is a trust fund for a child. This is usually set up by a family member and given to the child once they turn eighteen. Although the money is intended for them, it is not truly theirs until they meet the condition set — they turn 18. After this condition is completed, the giver can no longer reclaim the funds in the trust as theirs.

The example of a trust fund is easy to follow. However, in the case of engagement rings, there is some disparity between what condition needs to be met. It is not clearly stated in the engagement ring laws and thus is open to interpretation. As such, some U.S. states view the future condition as marriage, whereas others see it as saying "yes" to the proposal. 

  • Completion of the marriage: Some courts view the condition that needs to be met as marriage. In other words, the ring is only given to the recipient to keep if they follow through with the wedding. In these cases, the giver will be legally entitled to keep the engagement ring in the case of a broken engagement.

  • "Yes" to the proposal: Some courts view saying "yes" to the proposal as a condition that needs to be met. In other words, agreeing to marry the giver is sufficient to make the ring legally theirs. In these cases, the receiver will be legally entitled to keep the engagement ring in the case of a broken engagement.

Almost every court in the U.S. will agree that marriage is a condition that needs to be met. In nearly every broken engagement case taken to court, the receiver will legally have to give a ring back to the giver. There are a few rare instances in which agreeing to the proposal is sufficient, but this is unusual.

State Laws About Returning an Engagement Ring

If the case regarding your engagement ring ends up in court and the court rules that you are legally required to return the engagement ring, then you must do so. This occurs in almost all cases. Except for Montana, engagement ring law classifies the ring as a conditional gift, with the condition that you must actually get married to be entitled to keep the ring. 


However, engagement ring laws do vary slightly by state, and some states also consider who called off the wedding when deciding who should keep the ring. These states are Alabama, Alaska, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire; they are known as "fault" states. There, whoever called off the wedding forfeits the ring, even if they were the giver. The receiver won't have to give a ring back in these cases.


Nevertheless, most U.S. states take a "no-fault" approach, meaning the giver keeps the engagement ring regardless of who backed out of the marriage. 

Most states prefer this approach, as some engagements end mutually or due to personal issues, such as religious differences, pets that don't get along, or hostility towards children. Previous cases such as these set legal precedents, as judges believed the person who breaks the engagement shouldn't be punished by being forced to hand the ring over. As such, the "no-fault" approach is now widely accepted in most of the U.S.

Conclusion

Return of engagement ring law is essential when handling disputes between two people over who keeps the ring in a broken engagement. In most cases, the giver has the right to keep the ring. However, some states work on a "fault" approach and allow whoever was not responsible for the relationship ending to keep the ring. On the other hand, Montana always permits the receiver to keep the ring.

As there is a disparity between states, it is recommended to consult with an attorney if you and your ex-partner are arguing over who keeps the ring. They can give you advice on the court's likely ruling and your best course of action. 

Also, if you decide to split up with your partner but still remain legally married for some time, use a free separation agreement template crafted by top lawyers specializing in family law. The law may work on you as soon as you learn the ropes of the agreements that simplify everyday life.

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Article by
Alina Kalyna
Lawrina

Alina Kalyna is the Content Specialist at Lawrina. With her experience in content creation, Alina is adept at producing comprehensive and engaging content across various platforms. Her role at Lawrina involves generating high-quality content for the blog, guides, and other materials.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who keeps the engagement ring after a breakup?

Generally, the rules surrounding who keeps the engagement ring after a broken engagement vary widely, depending on the laws in each jurisdiction. In some places, the person who proposes typically has the right to get the ring back, as it is considered a conditional gift — a gift given on the condition of marriage. In other jurisdictions, the law might consider an engagement ring an outright gift, meaning it will not need to be returned. Always consult a local attorney knowledgeable about this area of law in your specific location.

Can the giver legally ask for the engagement ring back if the engagement is broken off?

The laws vary from place to place. In some states in the U.S., for example, an engagement ring is treated as a conditional gift that's contingent upon the promise of marriage. Here, if the marriage does not occur, the giver (typically the one who proposed) can legally ask for the ring back. Again, this can vary depending on your local laws, so it's crucial to consult a local attorney.

Does it matter who ended the engagement in terms of the rights to the engagement ring?

In many jurisdictions, it usually does not matter who ended the engagement. If a court views the ring as a conditional gift, the key factor is whether the condition (the marriage) occurred or not, not who decided to call it off. However, a few jurisdictions take into consideration who broke off the engagement when deciding the ownership of the ring. Always consult a local attorney for more accurate advice.