Broken marriage engagements can be stressful and emotional times, and are further complicated when one or both parties has given the other an (often expensive) engagement ring. When an engagement has been ended by one or both parties, the question of ownership of the engagement ring often arises. If the recipient of the ring refuses to return the ring, the parties may consider their legal rights and obligations regarding ownership of the ring.
Laws regarding these rights and obligations vary from state to state, with states determining ownership of the engagement ring (1) based on who was at fault in the breakup of the engagement (analyzing the ring as a conditional gift, conditioned on the wedding taking place); (2) based on who ended the engagement (analyzing the ring as a conditional gift, conditioned on the wedding taking place); (3) without regard to who ended the engagement or was at fault in the breakup of the engagement (analyzing the ring as an unconditional gift that the recipient may keep); or (4) requiring the recipient to return the ring without regard to who was at fault or who ended the engagement (no-fault).
If the parties do get married the engagement and wedding rings are generally considered gifts to the recipient, and therefore separate property that is not subject to division or return upon divorce—unless the parties have a written agreement that provides otherwise.
Laws regarding the ownership of an engagement ring when the engagement is broken are usually located in a state’s statutes or court opinions (common law).