If the Engagement is Off, Who Owns the Ring?

If the Engagement is Off, Who Owns the Ring?

The proposal is one of the most important moments for a couple. The proposal and the accompanying ring invokes the concept that the couple, at that moment, has decided to take their single but together status, and become a legally-bound unit through the act of getting married. The engagement ring is a symbol of the upcoming nuptials and is considered to have an extremely high value, not just sentimentally, but also financially. With such expensive jewelry on the line, what happens if the couple decides not to get married? Who owns the ring at the time the couple splits?

Historical “Fault-Based” Assessments Regarding the Ownership of the Ring

In recent history, there was a sentimentality by the courts of what an engagement and marriage mean to society as a whole. There were laws that permitted someone who was broken up with to sue for the emotional damage that was caused pursuant to the break-up. Though “heartbalm” litigation is no longer the law of the land, there is still monetary value with regards to the ring and the breakup of the couple before the marriage that goes beyond sentimentality into the land of expenses, property, and monetary damage. In British common law (which has little bearing on the law of the land in the United States, but British common law was considered when American law was starting to form), the courts analyzed the fault of the parties before determining who owned the ring. Because the ring was considered to be a promise to wed, the person who broke that promise would lose the ring; in other words, the innocent party would keep the ring.

Engagement Ring Law Theories Throughout the United States

The engagement ring law varies from state-to-state with states evaluating possession of the engagement ring based on the following theories:

  • The person who broke up the engagement loses ownership of the ring
  • The ring is considered to be an absolute gift, therefore the recipient of the ring gets to keep it
  • The ring represents the promise to wed, and if there is no wedding, regardless of the fault, the ring is returned to the person who purchased it
  • The ownership of the ring is dependent on the totality of the circumstances and must be decided on a case-by-case basis

South Carolina’s Engagement Ring Caselaw

In South Carolina, the South Carolina Court of Appeals dealt with the issue of ownership and possession of the ring at the time of the breakup. In a case known as Campbell v. Robinson, the Court of Appeals came to the decision first and foremost that fault would not be the determining factor relating to the right of ownership. It moved further that gift law would determine who had the legal right to the ring. In other words, the final determination of who owned the ring depends largely on the type of gift that the ring represents.

Because the ring was an engagement ring, it holds the conditional promise that by receiving the ring, there is a condition that acceptance of the ring means there is a promise to wed. Though no one can be forced into marrying, if the marriage does not take place, and the ring is conditional on getting married, then the ring is owned by the original giver. However, if there is additional evidence that could show that the ring has more significance than just an engagement ring and that it is not conditional on marrying, then the ring is considered to be an absolute gift, and the receiver can keep the ring.

Experienced Family Law Attorneys in Mount Pleasant, Charleston Area

Marriage comes with it significant issues that must be discussed and understood before deciding to wed. An experienced family law attorney at Klok Law Firm LLC can provide guidance on several ways to legally protect yourself before saying “I do”. Contact Klok Law Firm LLC today for a free and confidential consultation.

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