If an engagement to marry falls apart, who gets custody of the diamond ring? The original Dear Abby or Emily Post would have a definite protocol, but in the modern world where the principles disagree and the ring cost $26,000, you go to court. State laws vary, and some do not address this specific issue. It comes down to the purpose of an engagement ring. Does the ring signify an implied contract, or is it a gift, given freely without condition?
Most courts have not adopted this approach, however. They have opted for a “conditional gift” approach. An engagement is a gift subject to a condition—that marriage between the parties occurs. The gift only “vests”, or becomes complete, when the condition is satisfied by a marriage. Conversely, when the condition fails and the marriage doesn’t happen, the ring must be returned.
The concept of a conditional gift in this context is relatively simple. But courts in different jurisdictions have added yet another wrinkle to this approach by asking why the condition failed. If it was the fault of the donee, then she has to return the ring—she caused the condition to fail and would be unjustly enriched by keeping the ring. But if the broken engagement was the fault of the donor, then he can’t seek a remedy for the failed condition. But more recent cases—and the better reasoned ones—tend to apply a no-fault rule. If the condition fails, the ring goes back because the donor did not intend it to be kept under those circumstances. But a strict count of states would reveal that a substantial number, maybe even a majority, still look at fault.
In the Virginia case of McGrath v. Dockendorf, the man bought the ring, and also broke off the engagement. The court considered the ring an implied contract, which she countered by accusing him of breach of contract. Read how that case was decided at Verdict Justia. Your mileage may vary. The best advice is to not spend $26,000 on an engagement ring. You could buy a car, or make a good down payment on a house with that. Houses and cars come with written contracts. -via Fark
(Image credit: Petragems)