Washington, DC—Traditional etiquette suggests that if the man breaks off the engagement, the woman gets to keep the ring—sort of a consolation prize, as it were—but if she breaks it off, it’s her responsibility to return the ring.
Consumers, however, care more about what the law says than what etiquette does, especially when the ring is very expensive. Recently, Marketwatch reported that a Washington, DC-area attorney is suing his now-former fiancée for the return of a 4.06-ct. diamond ring that cost $100,000. He calls it a “conditional gift,” meaning it was given on the condition of marriage between them.
But after a contentious breakup, she refused to return the ring. It’s not the only high-cost, high-profile engagement to end this way, either—as Michael Stutman, a New York matrimonial attorney, told Marketwatch, “the bigger the ring, the bigger the problem.”
The bottom line is, laws vary by state. Only three states—California, Washington, and Texas—go by the “implied conditional gift” view which, like traditional etiquette, awards the ring to the bride if the groom broke off the engagement and to the groom if the bride did.
The majority of states regard the ring as a conditional gift, says family.findlaw.com, which means it goes back to the giver regardless of who ended the engagement. But in Montana, state law considers the ring an unconditional gift, so if the engagement ends, the proposer is out of pocket and the recipient gets to keep it regardless of who broke off the wedding plans.
Occasionally the law will take special considerations into account, such as a ring that is a family heirloom. And sometimes a ring is viewed as compensation, such as one case where a woman had given her fiancé money and even labor to improve his business. In exchange for her money and labor, he gave her a valuable diamond ring and proposed marriage. The relationship ended in a broken engagement, and the court awarded the diamond ring to the woman because the diamond ring was given to her as compensation.
For more information, read this article on family.findlaw.com.
Top image: Worthy.com