War of the Ring: Who gets the necklace if the marriage fails or never happens | Lerch, Early and Brewer


An engagement ring can be a powerful symbol of love and affection, but that sparkling rock can also quickly empty your bank account. So if your generous gift doesn’t precede a trip down the aisle or a marriage for life, what happens with that expensive ring can be a major point of contention.

Who keeps the ring depends on a variety of factors, but the two most important are: What state do you live in and are you already married?

Who keeps the engagement ring if the couple never gets married?

She took Beyoncé’s advice and “put a ring on it.” Unfortunately, sometimes all that glitters is not gold, and now you find yourself single before your wedding day.

Broken engagements are common, and resolving emotional and logistical issues difficult.

Who keeps the ring in the event of an engagement break depends on who bought the ring, how the ring was given to him, and the law of the state where you live.

In a traditional engagement, where one partner buys a ring and gives it to the other during the marriage proposal, many countries view the engagement ring as a conditional gift – that is, a gift with conditions. Conditional gifts must be returned to the donor (or offeror) if the specified condition is not met. With an engagement ring, the condition is marriage. In other states, the law is less clear about whether an engagement ring is a conditional gift and, therefore, who gets to keep it after things go wrong.

Maryland recognizes the donor’s right to redeem a conditional gift. However, in Maryland, whether an engagement ring is a conditional gift depends on whether the ring was given with a clear and intentional condition of marriage. To determine clear intent, the court looks for either an express declaration of the marriage stipulation or an implied intent of the marriage stipulation depending on the circumstances of the proposal. In Maryland, a court found that a diamond ring given when contemplating marriage, while the couple was living in a family relationship, was a conditional gift and required that it be returned to the applicant after the couple no longer married.

In D.C., there is no law stating exactly what happens to an engagement ring if the two parties don’t get married. However, DC recognizes the concept of conditional gifts. This leaves open the possibility that a D.C. court could find that in a traditional engagement, if the planned marriage is annulled before the wedding day, the engagement ring could be a conditional gift that must be returned to the applicant.

Who keeps the engagement ring in the event of a divorce?

What happens with an engagement ring when you divorce also depends on the circumstances surrounding the ring and the law of the state where you live. In most states, where there has been a traditional engagement, in the event of a divorce, the engagement ring reverts to the recipient – and the proposer does not get it back.

Often there is one of two reasons behind this. First, many countries view the engagement ring in a traditional engagement as a conditional gift, where the condition is met at the wedding date. Therefore, when a couple gets married, the ring recipient keeps the ring, regardless of how the marriage ends. Second, many states recognize that a divorced person retains property he or she owned before marriage. Since in a traditional engagement, engagement rings are given before marriage, the recipient keeps the engagement ring after the divorce.

In Maryland, in the event of a divorce, the engagement ring given in a traditional engagement goes back to the recipient. While DC does not have a specific law on this matter, DC law stipulates that an individual retain his or her premarital property in the event of divorce. A word of caution – engagement rings that are not given at a traditional engagement, such as those that are considered a family heirloom, purchased by both parties, given during the marriage, or promoted during the marriage, may be treated differently.

Negin T. Jeff contributed to this article.


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