A Broken Engagement: Who Gets to Keep the Ring?
Surely there is nothing more romantic than two people falling in love and getting engaged. In fact, tradition usually dictates that the husband-to-be flourishingly present a sparkly engagement ring to his wife-to-be at the moment that he proposes to spend the rest of their lives together. But let’s not jump the gun here. Sometimes forever is not, in fact, forever, and occasionally there are couples who don’t even get a chance to walk down the aisle. The pre-marriage split may be amicable but, as you can imagine, sometimes it can be far from it. One possible legal question: what can a gentleman do to get back his investment? In Arizona, the answer isn’t exactly clear. Surprisingly, there is no Arizona statute or case law on the question of whether an ex-fiancé is entitled to have an engagement ring returned to him. Many other jurisdictions, however, have ruled on the subject and the general answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ For example, in Salens v. Tubbs, 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 19102 (6th Cir. 2008), the decedent and the defendant became engaged and the decedent, naturally, gave the defendant an engagement ring. Subsequently, the defendant ended the relationship and rejected the decedent’s demands to return the ring. Nevertheless, the court held that, because the engagement ring was a conditional gift, when the condition was not fulfilled the ring, or its value should be returned regardless of fault. The court reasoned that a gift of property made in contemplation of marriage can be enforced as a “conditional gift” that will be returned to the donor upon proof of an express or implied-in-fact contract. The “conditional gift contract” rationale of Salens is the most common avenue — it has been employed by states like Iowa, Ohio and California, for example — but other theories include unjust enrichment, pledge and fault, whereby the court decides whether the ring is returnable based upon who is to blame for the aborted marriage. In any event, despite the silence of Arizona courts, there is a substantial amount of case law in many other jurisdictions that could be cited to in a cause of action. Of course, the plaintiff will have to weigh the costs and benefits of pursing litigation, but it is worth keeping in mind that there is indeed a chance that he will be successful in recouping his loss. Well, at least a financial one.