Can I Get My Engagement Ring Back?

Can I Get My Engagement Ring Back?

The courtship and engagement periods are usually happy times for a couple as they build a relationship and look toward marriage.  However, happiness may fade, circumstances may change, the relationship may end, and the planned engagement may be canceled, repudiated, or frustrated, with no marriage occurring between the parties.  When such a situation arises, one party to the courtship or engagement may seek to recover gifts of money or property given to the other party, requiring a legal determination of the parties’ respective rights in the money or property.  But what about the most precious, and often most valuable, piece of property? The engagement ring.

In Virgin v. Haber, the court ordered an engagement ring given to the woman (or the donee) to be returned to the man (or the donor).  Virgil v. Haber 119 NM 9, 888 P2d 455, 44 ALR5th 779 (NM 1994).  This is because the ring was a conditional gift.  The condition upon which the gift was given was the consummation of the marriage.  As the condition of marriage was not fulfilled, and the parties terminated their relationship, the court declined to engage in a “fault” determination regarding which party brought about the conclusion of the relationship.

In Aronow v. Silver, the court ruled that, upon termination of an engagement, gifts made in contemplation of the marriage that never occurred should be returned to the donor.  According to the court, “It does not matter who broke the engagement.  A person may have the best reasons in the world for doing so.  The important thing is that the gift was conditional, and the condition was not fulfilled.”  Aronow v. Silver, 223 NJ Super 344, 538 A2d 851.  The Hoosier State has gone further by not only making the donor entitled to the engagement rings return, but also entitled to its monetary amount contributed toward the purchase of the ring if return of the ring is impossible.  Fowler v. Perry, 830 N.E.2d 97 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005).

Some courts have reasoned that, where necessary to prevent unjust enrichment, the donor of an engagement gift was entitled to recover the engagement gift upon its termination.  Unjust enrichment is the concept in contract law which occurs when one person is “enriched” at the expense of another in circumstances that the law sees as unjust.  Where an individual is unjustly enriched, the law imposes an obligation upon the recipient to make restitution.  Liability for unjust enrichment arises irrespective of wrongdoing on the part of the recipient.  In context of engagement rings, a court using unjust enrichment would not have to determine fault of the termination of the engagement.  Instead, they would determine the amount by which the donee was enriched at the expense of the donor.  Next, they would decide whether it would be unjust to not order restitution to fix the imbalance.

Generally, the recipient of engagement rings must return the ring to the giver of that ring if the marriage does not occur.  Some jurisdictions will give ownership rights to the party not at fault.  Other courts will order restitution of the ring as long as one party is unjustly enriched.  Indiana law supports either return of the ring or its monetary value if its return is impossible, so long as the engagement ring was given in contemplation of marriage for which the condition of marriage was not completed.

If you or somebody you know needs assistance navigating property disputes resulting from a broken engagement, contact the experienced family law attorneys at Banks & Brower, LLC.  We are available at all times by calling us at 317-870-0019 or by emailing info@banksbrower.com.