Often, couples that separate prior to their wedding do not argue about the engagement ring because at that point there might be an entire wedding to cancel. Once the dust settles, though, the issue of what happens to the engagement ring is not ignored.
At the most basic level, an engagement ring is in fact a gift. Usually, one party purchases the ring and gives it to another party, at no cost to the recipient. However, engagement rings are not your typical gift; there is often a condition attached – the anticipation of marriage.
If an engagement is called off, it is quite possible that the receiver of the ring will not want to keep it due to emotions, and in that case, there is no issue. Nevertheless, disputes regarding the ring occur often enough that the California legislature adopted a statute to address it.
California Civil Code § 1590 states:
“Where either party to a contemplated marriage in this State makes a gift of money or property to the other on the basis or assumption that the marriage will take place, in the event that the donee refuses to enter into the marriage as contemplated or that it is given up by mutual consent, the donor may recover such gift or such part of its value as may, under all of the circumstances of the case, be found by a court or jury to be just.”
In other words, California courts will consider fault if an engagement is called off. Of course, the facts surrounding the “called off engagement” are not always black and white. As a general rule, if you call off the engagement, you lose the ring. If the facts are unclear as to why the engagement was called off, a court will evaluate and consider both sides’ arguments.
One suggestion, although not very romantic, is to determine what will happen to the ring in writing. No one wants to think about a called off engagement, but it is wise to make these decisions in the unlikely event that it does become an issue. The ring is a symbol of your commitment and investment in the future so don’t be afraid to ask for it back if the future is starting to look different.
– Sarah Rosenblatt