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February 2024 - Broken Engagements: Who Keeps the Ring?

Broken Engagements: Who Keeps the Ring? Broken Engagements: Who Keeps the Ring? February has long been synonymous with love and romance. Because of this, many people take the opportunity this month to pop the question, especially on Valentine’s Day. And while we wish those who do a long and happy life together, it unfortunately doesn’t always work out that way. So, what does happen when an engagement is called off? Who gets the ring? The answer depends on where you live.

Most people consider an engagement ring to be a gift and think that a gift, once given, should belong to the recipient. A few states share that viewpoint. Most, however, have a different opinion.

The majority of states, including New Jersey, consider an engagement ring to be a conditional gift, i.e., one given with the expectation that something else will happen; in this case, a wedding.

Under the law, a conditional gift remains the property of the giver until the condition with which it is given is satisfied. After that, the recipient gains complete ownership. In New Jersey that means if the marriage later ends in divorce, the engagement ring is not subject to equitable distribution. If the couple breaks up before the wedding, the condition is never met and the ring goes back to the giver, regardless of who initiated or caused the breakup.

But there may be exceptions. Have you ever heard the warning against giving an engagement ring as a holiday gift? That’s because under certain circumstances, the court could consider something given on a holiday typically connected with gift-giving (think birthdays, Christmas, Hanukkah, Valentine’s Day) as simply that – a gift without condition. As such, the court may take into account who instigated the breakup when deciding ownership of the ring. Of course, a prenuptial agreement could resolve all of this provided provisions for the engagement ring are included.

Before Cupid’s arrow spurs you to hand over Grandma’s heirloom ring, it could benefit you to take the time to fully understand your state’s position on engagement ring ownership.

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