Gifts In Contemplation of Marriage
I. Recent Developments
Engagements and the rings that go along generally tend to elicit happiness and excitement for those involved as well as their families. However, with strong emotions sometimes come disappointment and the unfortunate crumbling of the engagement commitment. A hotly contested issue between individuals after a broken engagement is who gets the ring? Time and extraordinary amounts of money are put into rings making them worth the fight that might inevitably ensue after the breakup. What happens when the individuals cannot agree on who keeps the ring and the courts step in to resolve the situation?
What does the law say? Each state in the United States has its own form of handling this type of situation. Recent developments in this area of law in the last five (5) years are very slim. Most states courts are holding steadfast to prior holdings, while state legislatures have not adopted any new legislative requirements in regards to this area of law in recent years. That is not to say that there is uniformity among the sates in handling a return of an engagement ring. State courts have reached different conclusions and there are presently three (3) types of ways in dealing with an engagement ring after a breakup: (1) Conditional gift; (2) Conditional gift with an at fault reading; and (3) Unconditional gift.
(A) Conditional Gift
With regards to number one (1), many states conclude that an engagement ring, as a gift in contemplation of marriage, is conditional on the marriage taking place. If the marriage is called off, the donee must return the ring to the donor. A minority of jurisdictions has adopted a “no-fault” approach, the modern trend, holding that once an engagement is broken, the engagement ring should be returned to the donor, regardless of fault. Women who want to keep the engagement ring make the argument that the condition needed to make the ring a final gift is the acceptance of the proposal for marriage, and not the full completion of the wedding ceremony. Courts have not looked favorably upon this argument, often times dismissing it and finding that the gift of an engagement ring contains an implied condition of marriage, and not the acceptance of the proposal as the deal being made.
In Carroll v. Curry, Former boyfriend brought action in replevin against his former girlfriend to recover possession of several items of personal property, including an engagement ring. The court entered summary judgment in boyfriend's favor, ruling that he was entitled to possession of the ring and ordering girlfriend to relinquish it to boyfriend. The court found that the engagement ring was a gift conditioned upon subsequent marriage, and former girlfriend stipulated that she intended to terminate the engagement when she ordered boyfriend to leave her home. The court concluded gifts given in contemplation of marriage are deemed conditional on the subsequent marriage of the parties, and...