Breaking up is hard to do, especially when there's an engagement ring involved. People whose cold feet never thaw enough for them to reach the alter often wonder who gets to keep the ring. The answer is quite complicated, and of course varies depending on the state of residence.
Some couples can come to a harmonious decision on their own about who gets to keep the ring, but others will turn the subject into a legal issue. Many women who want to keep their engagement rings argue that the ring should simply be seen as a gift, and that a person has a right to keep that gift. On the contrary, men will argue that the ring is a conditional gift that should only be accepted if the marriage actually takes place.
Texas common law states that an engagement ring is considered a conditional gift. However, the conditional gift rule also contains an element of fault in Texas courts. This means that a judge will determine which person in the relationship is at fault for breaking off the engagement when deciding who gets the ring.
However, this law only goes into effect if there is no other agreement that controls the property. This means that if you had a family heirloom that you want to assure stays in the family, you could write an agreement like a prenuptial agreement that states that the ring is to be returned to you if the engagement ends. Of course, there are far more romantic ways to say "I love you" than "sign here after you say yes."
So if a woman accepts an engagement ring and then later breaks off the engagement for a non-justifiable reason, then she will likely be ordered to return the ring to her former fiancé. This is unless there was an agreement saying otherwise, because as easily as you could write a contract requiring the ring to be returned, the couple could write one that the recipient can keep it no matter the reason for the end of the engagement.
If the man is the one to call off the wedding, he'll have to let the woman keep the ring in most instances. This Texas law is of course extremely controversial. Some judges think the whole matter of who broke up with whom shouldn't be a determining factor in who gets the ring. If no-fault reasoning can be applied to divorce, then why can't it be applied to an engagement?
October 2012 Editor's Note: This blog post has been updated by John List, Esq. to ensure relevancy of content and that law cited is current.
- Looking for a Houston Family Law Attorney? (FindLaw)
- Engagement Ring Law: Jilted Fiance Sues for $58K Ring (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life blog)
- Who Gets the Engagement Ring When the Wedding is Off? (FindLaw Writ)