Who Gets to Keep the Engagement Ring?

engagement ringYou love wearing that sparkly eye catching rock on your finger, but what happens if your intended beloved (or you) decide that you don’t want to go through with the wedding and one of you calls off the wedding, cancels the band and returns the dress? Do you have to give the ring back?  It’s bad enough that your guy tells you he is just not in love with you, but to add insult to injury, he wants the ring back. Under Pennsylvania law the answer is clear if the parties haven’t yet gotten married. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in Lindh v. Surman, 742 A.2d 643 (Pa. 1999), ruled that an engagement ring is a conditional gift given in contemplation of marriage and if the marriage ceremony does not take place, the ring must be returned to the donor. It does not matter that the donor broke the engagement, the reasons why or whose fault it is.

What if things ultimately work out between you and your intended and you get married.  You live happily for a few years but ultimately wind up separating and getting a divorce.  Now, who gets to keep the ring?  The answers hinges on the definition of marital property and is not as clear.  In Pennsylvania, marital property consists of all property acquired during the marriage and the increase in value of property owned prior to the marriage (measured from the date of marriage to the date of separation).  On the one hand, one could argue that since the ring was given to the donee prior to the marriage it constitutes the donee’s premarital property and only the increase in value of the ring, if any, from the date of marriage to the date of separation is subject to distribution between the parties.  On the other hand, one could argue that the engagement ring was given as a conditional gift and the gift was not completed until the parties were married.  Therefore the engagement ring was not really acquired until the parties were married, making the ring a marital asset.

Arguments may be advocated by counsel on either side of the issue.  If you have questions about the treatment of an engagement ring, you should consult with legal counsel.

By Dori F. GreenDori Green

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