Heartbroken Fiancee Fought the Law and the Law Won

Late last year we published an excerpt from our friend Robin’s book (So Sue Me, Jackass! Avoiding Legal Pitfalls That Can Come Back to Bite You at Work, at Home, and at Play) about who gets to keep the ring after a broken engagement. The lawerly response? “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.”

Now, if someone had said to us, okay, but what if the engagement is being called off because the guy cheated on the woman and she never wants to see his sorry face again? We’d have said these were extenuating circumstances: hells yeah she should keep the ring!

Which is why we’re just lowly advice columnists and someone else gets to be the judge. Because, as a judge recently ruled in a New York case, “Fault in the breakup of an engagement is irrelevant.” In other words, hand the ring over, sucker.

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  1. Now, if we could only get our shower and wedding gifts back from couples who divorce less than a year after the wedding!


  2. Johnny, the Engagement Ring, at least legally, isn’t a “down payment” (like a dowry or something) A ring something given, as a verbal contract “in expectation” of an event.

    It is unique, as few other things in our society have the same “value” there are no more Dowries, no more legal cases for “Breach of Promise” Years ago, if a man made it clear he was going to marry a woman and backed out, her FATHER (or brother, as women couldn’t bring legal suit) could sue the husband to-be as the girl’s “reputation” was now soiled. It would be more hard for her to find a mate, now that she had already “belonged” to a man, and her family had a Financial Stake in her marrying and could lose income if she was now NOT able to find a husband who would take a “used” woman. Not so anymore.

    As that isn’t the case anymore, there are no more “Breach of Promise” cases, but there are still Engagement Ring verbal contracts. I think jewelry stores should let people KNOW this, but it may lead to fewer rings being bought, so they don’t.

    Karen, again, as it isn’t a “Gift” who “fucked up” isn’t the issue. Also, it would take a Law Suit to DETERMINE WHO was “at fault.” (BOTH parties who were petty enough to care would say the other one was at fault.) Seeing as many states have No Fault Divorce, I see no reason to go back to “fault driven engagement break ups.”

    WHY would someone WANT an engagement ring from a failed relationship? As people say, KEEP THE RECEIPT! And women, have the ovaries to just give the damn ring BACK. Don’t be a harpy. 😉 Not only is it the LAW, it makes you look like much more of a healthy, independent, non-grudge bearing woman. You don’t need a Souvenir or a “payment” from a bad relationship. (Do you?) You’re a Grown Woman. It is too reminiscent of Sex as Commodity, from where I see it. Just give the damn ring back.

    He doesn’t OWE you jewelry, or anything else of monetary value, even if you think he WAS at fault. That isn’t my opinion, it’s the Law in most states.

  3. In the past and engagement was given to a woman as a promise of marriage and if this promise was broken then the woman would keep the ring as a sort of compensation so she could sell it or whatever. So really she should have been able to keep the ring as it was the guy who fucked up not her.

  4. Yes indeed, on the bias. Good point on engagement not being a contract in any court other than that of popular opinion.

  5. A little bit of anti-marriage bias there Johnny?
    Marriage may be a legal contract, but an engagement is not, nor is it a deal with a contractor.
    If you wanna talk a guy friend out of getting engaged, looks like the argument that she could legally keep the ring if things go south won’t fly. However, since some guys don’t have the balls to take their ex to small claims court, you might get traction with that reasoning after all.
    For me, I’d follow Em&Lo when they say keep the receipt.

  6. MmL, I’m assuming you’ve looked into this, so I have a question:

    Let’s say two parties make a contract. Party A makes a down-payment to Party B. Party B makes a good-faith effort to see it through, but Party A flakes/fucks up/can’t or won’t perform. Obviously Party A forfeits their down payment – that’s what a down payment is. Collateral that protects one party from getting screwed.

    In a case of verifiable infidelity on the would-be groom’s part, why wouldn’t the bride get to keep the ring? Marriage is a contract, and that’s her down payment, the way I see it.

  7. A PS3 player or a TV doesn’t hold the expectation of an engagement ring, in the eyes of the Law, it’s still “A Gift” and the give doesn’t get it back in the event of a break up.

    There’s a way to avoid this NEVER give someone you don’t trust fully an expensive gift. Nor accept an engagement ring from a person of the same kind.

  8. The Judge is RIGHT even IF he cheats, an engagement ring is NOT “A Gift.” It is an object offered with the understanding that a certain legal event will transpire.

    Doesn’t matter if someone “cheats.” Doesn’t matter if “he’s a huge asshole, so I get to keep the ring.” Doesn’t matter if “She’s a crazy bitch.” Doesn’t matter who is a “poo poo head.” The LAW in most states doesn’t CARE who SAYS the other one cheats, is “crazy” etc (They hear enough of these indictments in Divorce Court. Most of the time, it doesn’t matter.)

    The ring is NOT a gift. It goes back to the giver if for ANY reason the wedding doesn’t take place.

    Most laws are convoluted enough. THIS is clear. The ring given with the understanding that this thing (a marriage) takes place. EVEN IF the giver is “at fault” for the relationship ending, he still gets the ring back IF he purchased it.

    If they bought together, then it gets sticky. My guess would be for the couple to sell it or return it and share the profits.

    GIFTS are given with NO expectation from the Giver and NO obligation on the part of the Receiver.

    An engagement ring is not LEGALLY a “Gift” so he gets it back.

  9. Fine, I’ll take that lovely PS3/Flatscreen TV/whatever I gave as his engagement “ring” then …

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