Girls believe in fairytales from the moment they watch their very first Disney movie. These dreams often include being given a sparkling diamond ring from a prince charming. However, real life is not always quite the fairytale that one hopes for, and sadly, engagements sometimes end without the desired wedding. When an engagement ends prematurely, one thing on each person’s mind is: Who does the expensive diamond ring belong to? Entitlement to engagement rings falls under property, contract, and family law. These laws vary by state.
Three modern approaches apply to this situation. First, Montana is the only state that follows the traditional approach that considers an engagement ring to be an inter vivos gift. The inter vivos gift approach favors the person who received the ring as a gift. Under this approach, the receiver is entitled to the ring regardless of who caused the break-up. Next, the second approach is followed by a small number of states including: California, Missouri, and Texas. This approach allows fault to factor into the analysis. If both parties abandon the commitment to marry, the ring should be returned. If the woman who has received the ring unjustifiably breaks the promise, it should be returned. Conversely, if the giver of the ring violates his promise to marry, he should lose his rights to the ring.
Finally, the third approach, which the majority of states follow, uses a non-fault analysis that favors the giver of the ring. This approach considers the engagement ring a conditional gift. Under this approach, the fault behind the break-up does not determine the owner of the ring. Therefore, if the agreed upon condition of marriage is not met, the ring should return to the one who gave it in the first place.
This can be a complicated matter. Although many states have determined which approach they follow, North Carolina does not have any clear law governing who is entitled to an engagement ring after an engagement is terminated. However, North Carolina property law on conditional gifts suggests that North Carolina would likely follow the majority approach described above. The intention behind one’s gift giving is not always clear-cut, which is vital in determining whether a gift is conditional or not. If you have recently been in an engagement that has ended prior to marriage, you may want to consult with an attorney for advice before fighting over the ring.