Who Keeps the Engagement Ring?

Engagements are a beautiful moment that couples in love will remember and cherish forever. Many couples that get engaged go on to plan a gorgeous wedding and celebrate many anniversaries for years to come. Some engagements, unfortunately, are called off before the wedding even takes place. In this situation, there can be some tension as to who gets to keep the gorgeous, hand-selected, possibly very expensive engagement ring. There are a few ways in which this can be handled.

California's Laws on Gifts in Contemplation of Marriage

In California, our legislature has created a unique code section to address this very problem of gifts given “in contemplation of marriage.”

California Civil Code section 1590 reads"

  • “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.”

The donor is the person proposing and the donee is the person being proposed to. So, if a ring is given during an engagement, the ring is given under an assumption that a marriage will take place.

Who Called Off the Wedding?

If the partner who was proposed to calls off the wedding, then the partner who proposed can get the ring back. Or, if both partners mutually agree to call off the wedding, the partner who proposed can get the ring back. Of course, if the donee fiancé doesn’t want to give the ring back voluntarily, the donor fiancé will have to spend the time and money in court to retrieve it.

What happens if the donor partner calls off the wedding? There is an old, but still valid, case in California that found when the donor calls off the wedding, or breaks the contractual agreement to marry, the donee may keep the ring. The court views this on a contractual basis, in that the donee spouse should not be punished for keeping up his or her end of the bargain.

Note that this rule in California applies to any gift of “money or property,” so the donor fiancé may also retrieve other property back (a house, car, etc.) if he or she can show that the gift was made in contemplation of marriage.

Create a Prenuptial Agreement to Avoid Problems

Parties are always able to enter into a prenuptial contract prior to marriage that determines what will happen to the ring if the wedding is called off, or even after the wedding and during marriage. It’s not very romantic, but the parties may specifically state who gets to keep what property, including a ring, should the relationship not last.

If the parties do not sign a prenuptial and go through with the wedding, the ring will most likely stay with the donee. This is because after the wedding is done, both parties have upheld their part of their agreement when they got engaged. One party agreed to give the ring if the other party agreed to marry. Once this is accomplished, most courts will view the completed contract to entitle the donee to keep the ring and gift.