engagement ring after break up

Who keeps the Engagement Ring After a Break-Up?

engagement ring lawyer

Who keeps the Engagement Ring After a Break-Up?

I enjoy listening to the “Mike & Mike Show” on ESPN Radio during my morning commute.  I remember on one show that they were discussing a lawsuit filed by NFL player, Mario Williams, against his ex-fiancee seeking the return of a $785,000 engagement ring. So they posed the question for each of their in-studio guests:  Should the ex-fiancee get to keep the engagement ring?

Opinions varied, but the general consensus was that she should have to return the ring, unless the engagement ended because of infidelity by Williams. Interesting opinions.  And actually not that far off from what the law actually requires.

Engagement Ring–Tennessee Law

In Tennessee, the Court of Appeals addressed this precise issue in 2007.  In the case of Crippen v. Campbell, 2007 WL 2768076, the Court held that under Tennessee law (as is the case in most states) an engagement ring is a “conditional gift” by the donor that must be returned by the donee if the condition (i.e. the marriage) is not ultimately satisfied.  Moreover, the Court further recognized that while in some jurisdictions the donee would be entitled to keep the ring if the donor was at fault for the demise of the engagement, the rule in Tennessee was not dependent on fault.  In other words, in Tennessee at least, the fiancee would have to return the ring no matter what.

Specifically, the Court summarized its holding as follows:

In summary, we hold that an engagement ring is given in contemplation of marriage, and, as such, is impliedly a conditional gift. If marriage, for whatever reason, does not ensue, ownership of the ring never vests in the donee and the donor is entitled to the return of the ring. We recognize that there are cases holding that a donee is entitled to retain an engagement ring when the donor is responsible for the failed engagement. See, e.g., White v. Finch, 209 A.2d 199, 201 (Conn. Cir.Ct.1964) (“where an engagement is broken owing to the fault of the donor, he may not recover the ring”). We decline to follow these cases because we believe the rule adopted by us is more in keeping with the essence of what occurs, and what is contemplated, at the time of an engagement. If and when that which the parties contemplated – the marriage – does not occur, the engagement ring goes back to the one who gave it.

Obviously, this only applies if the couple breaks up before they get married, and has no bearing in a divorce situation.  Indeed, once the underlying gift condition is met — i.e. a wedding takes place — the ring belongs to the donee for good.


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