If an engagement is broken off, who legally owns the ring?

Asked on October 23, 2011 under Family Law, Virginia


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

The majority of courts consider an engagement ring to be a "conditional gift". That means it is a gift given on condition that a future event occur (in your case given in contermplation of marriage). If that event does not occur I.e. the marriage does not take place), then the donor has the right to get the gift back.  Bottom line, when an engagement is broken, the would-be-bride must return the ring without regard to "fault".

In the minority of states fault does matter. The reasoning is that it isn't fair that the donor should always get the ring back, especially if the donee stood ready to go ahead with the marriage and the donor broke it off (as it would be unfair for the donee to keep the ring if the engagement was broken because of the donee's unfaithfulness or other wrongdoing).

My research suggests that your state follows the majority rule.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.