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  • Writer's pictureSummers Family Law

The Ring's the Thing: Reflections on a Failed Engagement

As a divorce attorney, I see the aftermath of failed relationships all the time. But before couples walk down the aisle, there's often another broken contract — the one to get married in the first place. Who keeps the ring when an engagement falls apart? A recent case from the Massachusetts Appeals Court waded into these murky waters.

The backstory: Bruce and Caroline met in 2016 and got serious fast. Bruce showered Caroline with lavish vacations, gifts, and paying for dental surgery. In 2017, after getting her father's blessing, Bruce proposed with a $70K diamond ring. Caroline accepted. They picked out engraved wedding bands. But later Bruce found questionable texts and voicemails on Caroline's phone, accused her of cheating, and called off the wedding by voicemail.

Bruce sued to get the rings back. Caroline counterclaimed for the cost to complete her dental work. After a trial, the judge awarded Caroline the diamond ring and one wedding band, plus the dental costs and 20% interest. Bruce appealed.

The Appeals Court reversed on the ring, finding Bruce wasn't at fault simply for being the one to break it off. The Court vacated the interest award.

What can we learn as divorce attorneys? Broken engagements can get messy fast. Most states now use a "no fault" rule — the ring goes back to the giver, period. No need to weigh who's to blame. But Massachusetts still looks at fault, even though we have no-fault divorce. Go figure.

I agree with the dissent that courts shouldn't be decoding relationships gone sour. These emotional issues are better hashed out personally. Or the Legislature could modernize the law.

Of course, I tell clients the best thing is a written contract upfront spelling out the ring's return if the wedding's off. But what guy wants to raise that unromantic topic when popping the question?

When relationships crumble, emotions run high. The law lags behind the times. Cases like these show why it's critical to have an attorney review agreements and rights if you're heading to Splitsville. Let's hope for more consistency and clarity in the law.

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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