By: Robert B. George, Esquire
Dating back to ancient times, it has been a tradition for men to give their intended bride an engagement ring when they propose. But not every engagement ends in a marriage, as it has been estimated the almost ¼ of engagements are called off every year across the United States. The question then becomes – who gets to keep the ring?
Some countries, such as England, consider engagement rings to be an “absolute gift”, as a result of which there is no requirement that the recipient return it to the person who gifted it to them. Rather, the recipient is free to keep the ring and cannot be sued by his or her ex-fiancé for its return. The results are very different in the US, specifically in Pennsylvania.
While there are some states that look to which party was at fault for the break-up, Pennsylvania Courts do not take fault into consideration at all. Rather, in Pennsylvania an engagement ring is considered and treated as what is known as a “conditional gift.” This means that until a future event occurs – that being the marriage contemplated by the underlying engagement, the gift is not complete, and if the future event (marriage) does not occur, then the donor has the right to get the gift back. In this situation, the donor gives the engagement ring to the donee on the condition that she marry him. If the engagement is broken, and the marriage therefore not consummated, the gift is not considered to be complete and the ring should be returned to the donor, unless the parties have reached an alternative agreement and/or arrangement between them.
The condition of the gift does not have to be explicit. Pennsylvania Courts have held that the gift of an engagement ring contains the implied condition of marriage. There have been situations in which women have attempted to keep their engagement rings by arguing that the condition needed to make the engagement ring gift final is the acceptance of the marriage proposal. However, Pennsylvania Courts have explicitly held that mere acceptance of the marriage proposal is not the implied condition for the engagement ring gift. Pennsylvania Courts, however, have adopted a strict no-fault principle to engagement rings. The donor of the gift is entitled to the return of the engagement ring even if he is the one who broke the engagement, and the reasons for the breaking of the engagement do not matter. This strict no-fault principle means that the donor is entitled to the return of the ring regardless of his reasons for breaking off the engagement, even if those reasons are deemed and/or found to be offensive. This principle is also consistent with Pennsylvania’s adoption of no-fault divorces, where marriages can end without court battles over who is at fault.
While engagement rings are usually considered conditional gifts in Pennsylvania, it is possible for a conditional gift to transform into an absolute one. In that case, the fact that the marriage did not occur has no bearing on who keeps the ring. For example, if the giver of the ring specifically tells the recipient they can keep it after the engagement ends, the ring may be considered as an “absolute gift”, similar to the situation one might find themselves in England as noted above. In this case, the recipient would be entitled to keep the ring.
There are other factors that may need to be taken into consideration as a result of which the general rule under Pennsylvania law may not apply, such as the case in which both parties contributed toward the purchase of the ring. In such a case, each would arguably have a claim for and entitled to be reimbursed for the money he/she contributed, in which case the ring may have to be sold in order to make both of the parties’ whole.
Should you find yourself confronted with this or similar legal issues, it is important that you consult with an Attorney who has experience with such matter in order to know your rights and responsibilities.
The Law Firm of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP is a full-service law firm in Media, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. We strive to help people, businesses and institutions throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania solve legal problems – and even prevent legal problems before they occur. To learn more about the full range of our specific practice areas, please visit www.dioriosereni.com or contact Robert B. George, Esquire at 610-565-5700 or at [email protected].
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