“I Don’t” – Who does the ring belong to if the engagement is called off?

Aside from ruining the moment, requiring someone, while on bended knee and asking another to marry them, to clarify that in the event that the engagement is called off they want the ring back is “unduly harsh and unnecessary,” according to the Tennessee Court of Appeals in the 2007 case Crippen v. Campbell.

In the case of Crippen v. Campbell, a couple was engaged to be married, but ultimately called off the engagement before the wedding. However, both parties claimed the right to the engagement ring and sought to have their respective rights enforced by a court of law. The Tennessee Court of Appeals held that the ring was given in contemplation of marriage. This meant it was “impliedly a conditional gift.” So, because the couple did not fulfill the marriage pact, ownership never vested for the party that was proposed to and she was required by law to return the ring to her former fiancé.

However, not every state follows the same rule. For example, in Montana, an engagement ring is deemed a completed gift upon acceptance by the party accepting the proposal. So, if the engagement does not result in marriage, the party that proposed lacks the legal recourse available to claim the ring back. Some states take a more hybrid approach and hold that the ring is conditional and must be returned if marriage does not follow, unless the asking party was at fault. This means that if the proposing party calls off the engagement (or sometimes, acted in such a way that forced the other party to call off the engagement), then they cannot get the ring back under this conditional gift theory.

So, what are the requirements for a legally enforceable gift? Under the law, a gift is a legally enforceable transaction. It is defined as an immediate transfer of property rights from the donor to the donee without any payment or other consideration. When determining whether a completed gift has been made, the court will look to see if there is: (1) donative intent (i.e., the individual giving the gift intended to immediately make this transfer of rights), (2) delivery, and (3) acceptance. If these three elements are present, the gift is deemed to have been completed and the legal rights to the property have been transferred to the donee.

That said, there are other types of gifts under the law. For example, one is called a “gift causa mortis,” that is made in contemplation of death. It requires the three essential elements found in all gifts but additionally obliges that the gift is made in anticipation of imminent death. This allows an individual to make a gift in this extreme circumstance where if they survive, they can reclaim the property that was “gifted.”

At Fidelis Law we are committed to assisting our clients in all matters involving family law, estate planning, business law & business formation, nonprofit law, and church law. With the assistance of our attorneys, you can face these matter head on with an advocate representing your best interests.

Author: Allie Stevens