Who Gets to Keep the Ring After a Broken Engagement?

Our friend Robin Epstein and her sister Amy Epstein Feldman just wrote a hilarious (not to mention helpful) book called  So Sue Me, Jackass! Avoiding Legal Pitfalls That Can Come Back to Bite You at Work, at Home, and at Play. Over the past few weeks, we’ve published excerpts answering questions like “Can you keep an ex from posting your nudie pics?” and If you get married while drunk, does it count? For this last installment, we’ll learn who gets to keep the ring.

Q: When my ex-fiancé broke our engagement, Señor Shitface told me he’d be needing his grandmother’s ring back. I told him the only way he’d see that ring again was when my fist connected with his nose. He claims the engagement ring is his. I say it’s mine. Who’s right . . . and who gets to keep the rock?

A: While common courtesy dictates that the ring should remain with the dumpee, the law in most jurisdictions dictates that if a ring is given in contemplation of marriage, the woman doesn’t take title to the ring until the marriage takes place. That means if the marriage doesn’t take place, the ring goes back to the giver. If the ring was not given in anticipation of marriage, however, but as a gift—or in one actual case to reimburse the woman for cash and labor she’d invested in her fiancé’s property—the ring is hers to keep. Of course, when you get a proposal like, “I can’t pay you for gardening, but here’s a diamond ring,” one more question should be going through your mind: “Do I really want to marry this putz?”

Previous Excerpts:

So Sue Me, Jackass! is on sale everywhere now. For more information — or to ask them your own embarrassing question — check out SoSueMeJackass.com. We’ll be posting more excerpts here in the coming weeks.


  1. But, legally, Southern Belle the ring still belongs to him. Doesn’t matter WHAT holiday he used to give you the ring.

    Judges hear “He’s a selfish asshole liar, so I should not have to….” Or “He’s a jerk, so I should get to….” every day in divorce court, it really doesn’t hold up.

    Just going with the law. How long it took you to figure out the man and his offspring were unstable, nor the fact that he gave you the ring on whatever holiday doesn’t have any effect on the fact that an engagement ring is NOT a “gift” in the legal sense of the word.

  2. He gave me the engagement ring as a birthday, Christmas present. He paid cash and registered the ring in my name. He told his adult children we were engaged then said he had no intention of marrying me. I’ve kept the ring and any other gifts he gave me. He’s a pathological liar and I’m glad I found out before I married him. His kids are wackoo too.

  3. Legally, an engagement ring is NOT a “gift.” A gift is legally something given with NO expectation of reciprocation, and without any expectation of any action on the “giftee.”

    An engagement ring, by that logic is NOT a “gift” but part of an oral contract. Meaning “this ring is yours if we get married.” In most places, if the wedding does not take place, no matter who calls it off, the ring goes back to him (unless she paid for it.)

    Miss Manners and Emily Post agree. One doesn’t HAVE TO give back the wedding or shower presents (but really one SHOULD, unless one wants to be thought of as hopelessly selfish and then expects to receive NOTHING from relatives and friends when a real wedding does take place eventually) but the ring has to be returned.

    In some places he actually has LEGAL rights to the ring, if he bought it, and the marriage is called off by either party.

  4. My uncles first wife kept (actually sold) my grandmother’s ring when they got divorced even though my grandmother would have -bought it back from her.- I think that was pretty spiteful. If the value of the ring is purely money and emotions to you than I say it’s between the two of you but it’s unfair to drag someone else’s heirlooms into your argument.

  5. this is not about our opinions, this is a legal issue. Em & Lo are right. The ring is his until you marry. But if the ring was given (and the proposal done) at say, your birthday or Christmas, then you have a better case in claiming it as yours.

  6. so I have to agree with Evan.

    but I also have to say that if they bought it for YOU, for the marraige then you should be able to keep it. I see it as a gift to symbolize his promise to marry you. If he bought an expensive promise ring (wouldn’t anyone actually do that?) then I think he has no right to ask for it back. Of course if you don’t want it, give it back. there’s not really much you can gain from it, except a reminder of a failed relationship, and who wants that? This guy doesn’t deserve it. Give it back, but make damn sure he knows it’s not because he’s asking for it. It’s because you don’t want it.
    if it was me, I would give it back to his family. Not him. only because I tend to bond with the family, and I would want to give it back to THEM because THEY didn’t break up with you.

  7. Also worth noting – if you keep his grandmother’s ring out of spite (and given that diamonds have surprisingly little resale value, and that presumably you don’t want it as a keepsake of your time together it’s hard to come up with another reason to) then you are, even without the ceremony, Señora Shitface. Give it back and sleep at night.

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