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Engagements Gone Wrong: Who Gets to Keep the Ring?

Valentine’s Day is almost here which means many couples are about to become engaged. Valentine’s Day is the most romantic day of the year and while it’s not the most popular day for proposals, it consistently ranks among the top few days for engagements to begin. In 2016 Americans spent an average of $6,163 on engagement rings, up from the standard $5000 average we normally see.

It’s great to see these proposals on Valentine’s Day, but unfortunately not all engagements work out. According to 2013 study by the Wedding Report, roughly a quarter million engagements are called off annually in the U.S. We understand that not every marriage or engagement works out, but what do you do with the ring? Let’s turn to John Atencio for some insight.

Who Keeps the Ring on a Broken Engagement?

Different states have different rules regarding engagement rings, but most courts see the engagement ring as a gift. What constitutes a gift? According to FindLaw the law requires the intent to give the ring as a gift, the actual turning over of the gift to the gifted, and the gifted’ s acceptance of the guilt. An engagement ring fits those rules well, but engagement rings are also different since the idea behind their gifting is to end in marriage.

“It is the difference between the ring as consideration for the promise to get married as opposed to the ring as a ‘gift’, as gift is defined in the law,” said Anita M. Ventrelli, senior partner at Schiller, DuCanto & Fleck. The Chicago law firm specializes in divorce and family law. Because there is an expectation from an engagement ring, it is not considered a traditional gift and most states require its return.

However, some states treat a broken engagement like a divorce, and will figure out whose fault the broken engagement is. Whoever the courts find at fault will not get to keep the ring, whether they’re the buyer or they were gifted the ring.

Once the couple is married the ring is treated differently. Some states see the ring turned into a legal gift once the marriage begins while other state courts treat the ring like any other marital property.

Though your state may not require it, the right thing to do is return the ring, especially if it’s a family heirloom or has other non-monetary value. “Personal feelings are what is going to direct you,” said Lizzie Post, co-president of the Emily Post Institute, “The question the recipient of the ring should ask, she said, is: “How much do you want to hang onto a ring that is a promise that you are never going to enact?”