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  • Writer's pictureSummers Family Law

I Said Yes, But Now I Say No: What Happens to the Engagement Ring?

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

As a family law attorney, I get asked this question a lot — what happens to the engagement ring if the wedding is called off? Many people are surprised to learn that, legally, the ring is considered a conditional gift. That means it's given on the condition that the marriage will actually happen. If the wedding is cancelled, the person who gave the ring can ask for it back.


This seems unfair to some people. After all, the person being proposed to isn't breaking off the engagement in most cases. But the law sees the ring as a symbol of the promised marriage. If there's no wedding, the marriage contract is broken, and the ring should be returned.


Of course, just because the law says the ring should be returned doesn't mean that's what actually happens. If the breakup is amicable, the recipient may willingly give back the ring. They may decide it holds too many sad memories and doesn't want to keep it. But if the split is bitter, they may refuse to return the ring in order to spite their ex.


So what happens then? As with so many issues in family law, the options are negotiation, mediation, or court. The jilted partner may contact their ex and calmly request that they give back the ring. If they refuse, the jilted partner can propose mediation where a neutral third party helps them come to an agreement. Mediation avoids high legal fees and bitter court battles.


If mediation fails, small claims court is probably the next step. The jilted partner would sue their former fiancé for the value of the ring. The judge may order the ring returned or require the recipient to pay their ex back a sum equal to the ring's cost. But going to court should always be a last resort in these circumstances. Ending an engagement is painful enough without lengthy court fights.


The story of the ring after a broken engagement holds many lessons. For the partner giving the ring, make sure you protect that investment and get in writing what will happen to the ring. For the recipient, know that the symbol on your finger is legally not yours. And for couples heading towards splitsville, remember that spite and score-settling usually lead to more pain. Better to end an engagement with grace, treat each other with kindness, and then move forward.


Disclaimer: The content provided in this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be construed as legal advice and readers should not act upon any information provided without seeking professional legal counsel. The author does not guarantee the completeness or accuracy of the information provided. This blog is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.

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