Does She Have to Return the Engagement Ring?

We Alabama divorce lawyers had an e-mail conversation today about whether the wife must return the engagement ring if she and the husband divorce after a marriage of just a few months. The law in Alabama doesn’t appear to be settled on this question, although other states give us some useful guidance.

The closest case in Alabama on whether the bride must return the engagement ring and the wedding ring after a short-term marriage is Phillips v. Phillips, 705 So. 2d 512 (Ala. Civ. App. 1997). In that case, the trial court allowed the bride to keep the ring but ordered her to pay the groom $4,700, which happened to be the value of the ring.

The Court of Appeals affirmed without opinion, so we don’t really know the reasoning that led to the decision. In his dissent, however, Judge Crawley summarized the principle as he understood it (note omitted):

Although Alabama has yet to address whether a wedding ring is considered to be the spouse’s separate property or is considered to be marital property, other states have considered the issue. See Smith v. Smith, 797 S.W.2d 879 (Mo. App. 1990); Winer v. Winer, 241 N.J. Super. 510, 575 A.2d 518 (App.Div. 1990); Lipton v. Lipton, 134 Misc. 2d 1076, 514 N.Y.S.2d 158 (Sup. Ct. 1986); Semasek v. Semasek, 509 Pa. 282, 502 A.2d 109 (1985); Guggenmos v. Guggenmos, 218 Neb. 746, 359 N.W.2d 87 (1984). The majority of other courts have held that an engagement ring, although a conditional gift when first presented to the wife in contemplation of marriage, is an absolute gift when given to the wife and is separate property not subject to division in a divorce. Lipton, 134 Misc. 2d at 1077, 514 N.Y.S.2d at 159-160; Winer, 241 N.J. Super. at 528, 575 A.2d at 528; Smith, 797 S.W.2d at 881. In Lipton, to determine that the ring was indeed a gift to the wife, the court considered whether the elements of an inter vivos gift were satisfied. Lipton, 514 N.Y.S.2d at 159.

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54 thoughts on “Does She Have to Return the Engagement Ring?”

  1. Here in Canada, the laws relating to engagements and engagement rings is determined at the provincial level as well. In Alberta, a precedent was set several years ago whereby the engagement ring was considered an offering for the sole purpose of marriage, and therefore must be returned if the engagement is broken off. I don’t have the case information handy but should be able to find it if you email me.

    I live in the province of Quebec, where there a similar precedent has been set. However, having legal title to someone and actually getting it back can be two entirely different things. The public embarassment for both parties at having to go to small claims court to get this resolved is not something everyone wants to do.

    I feel strongly about this issue because this has happened to me… I spent $10,000 on a ring and jewelry, only to find my fiancee run off with the ring. I guess she got what she wanted. It’s a lot of money, and it will take me 18 months to pay it off, but even despite all that I’m not sure if I will take her to court. I’d almost certainly win, but it seems such a painful way to resolve something that should be left between two individuals (and common sense) to work out.

    Best regards,

    Kelly Martin
    Montreal

  2. Hello, My brother was recently married and divorced in a matter of months. She told him
    two weeks after the wedding that she was with someone else and had been for some time. She
    to will not give back the ring. Is there anything he can do? It infuriates me to no end.
    She totally blind sided him. He was nice about the whole thing, but now she is being
    nasty. Please help soon.

  3. A friend of mine was married on 3/29/06 and he purchased an engagement/wedding ring in the amount of $22,000. As of
    6/2/06, they are not together anymore and proceeding with a dissolution. She returned the ring for full value and won’t
    return the money to him. Is this case like Phillips v. Phillips? He goes to court on 7/5/06, could you please
    respond ASAP?

    Thank You

  4. hi! i was engaged and recived both my engagment and wedding bands at the same time because my parents were buying them till my fiance got out of basic training. well he never went and his mother payed for the ring till he was able to enroll later on in a few months. several months later we split after living together for 4 months at my parents. my parents kept the rings for safe keeping, and i was told by his mother i was a bad housewife and to controling and that i was never to call him again! and if i did i would get harassment charges placed on me. so there is no way to even bring up the subject to him..sense he gave me the ring NOT his mom. i know that sertain amount of time must past before selling them on e-bay or just whiching the stones to a necklace or whatever…how much time must past?

  5. I’m confused. If your parents paid for these rings, they belong to you, and you can do with them as you desire. If he or his parents paid for them, they are a conditional gift and must be returned because the condition making the gift complete (your saying “I do”) is not satisfied. If BOTH sets of parents have paid money on them, I would still give them back if I were you, but I’ll leave that up to you and the various parties to work out.

    I’m aware of no period of time that would make this any less murky. Anything you can do in three years about it you can do now.

  6. Situation:

    Wedding has taken place less than 6 – 12 months couple is getting divorce s/d they return the wedding gifts?

    What’s the proper etiquette: s/d you return the wedding gifts if the marriage does not last for 6 – 12 months? and/or s/d the guest approach the soon to be divorced-newlywed requesting gift to be returned once the guest finds out if it’s appropriate to return gift(s).

  7. My girlfriend and have talked about marriage. I purchased a house, in my name only, due to her credit. We have 4 kids, 2 hers, 2 mine. I purchased a engagement ring, with the intent of marriage after the kids are all gone. 12 years. Is this a gift? Or does Iowa state this as a contract of future marriage, and should the ring be returned?

  8. Beats me, Bill, for two reasons: (a) I know nothing about Iowa law; and (b) the judge may look differently (as would I) on a gift given 12 years ago and decide that, no matter what the law says about engagement rings, this looks more like a pure gift because of the passage of time.

  9. My boyfriend proposed and I accedpted a ring. We made wedding plans to marry in Jamaica and many deposits and airline tickets were purchased. He called off the wedding and I soon found out that he was married to a lady in Russia and has been married for less than a year. He has never filed divorce papers and he would not have had time to get divorced and wait the 60 days before marrying me. Who should receive the ring?

  10. In general, the engagement ring is a conditional gift based on saying “I do,” meaning that you would return it to him. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether the special circumstances of his deceiving you are enough to change that normal principle.

  11. The fact that the Courts in this country routinely permits the wife to keep the ring, even when it is she who chooses to file for divorce, is so incredibly contrary to the laws of contract. I spent $10,000 on a beautiful diamond wedding ring for my wife. Ahe knew my feelings on divorce, which is why I waited until I was nearly 40 years old before getting married. After 4 years, she files for divorce. Contract broken. The ring is given under the condition that the marriage contract remains in tact. And so long as the marriage is not broken as a result of adultery, abuse, etc.., and the wife files for divorce, the wife should not get the ring, period.

  12. From everything I’ve read, you have to be able to enter into a contract of marriage before you can become engaged to someone. If you are not capable of marrying, then it is simply a gift and gifts do not have to be returned.

  13. I have two questions.

    First, many states have different ways in determining who gets what. So if I purchased an engagement ring in my state and proposed to her in my state and we go to court, which state would we appear in or which state would the case go too?

    Second, if I’m still paying on a ring, how does that factor into settlement. Do I have a stronger case of getting it back since the “gift” hasn’t been paid for yet or would the judge still consider it like a paid ring?

    Thank you.

  14. First question: beats me. My guess is that whoever is deciding your divorce will apply the law of the state where the court is.

    Second question: Perhaps a tad stronger case, but my guess is that the ring belongs to the donee.

  15. I am thinking about a divorce and I was just wondering about “gifts” given prior to the marriage. Are these gifts kept or given back to the party who purchased them? Also if the wedding and engagement rings are one in the same would I give back the ring he purchased for me or would I keep that? This is an Alabama divorce.

  16. It varies, of course, but in general, gifts that one spouse gave to another before marriage or during marriage belong to the recipient, not to the donor.

  17. I have been married for less then a year. My husband has spent most of his time drinking and leaves after any disagreement and stays with his mom more then he stays home, where he is free to drink. We have a 6 month old son together and now he has left again in a drunken rage and has now asked for the engagement ring back that was given to him by his mother for me. He initially proposed with a differant ring and then upgraded to this one. Do I have to give it back to him to return to his mother or does it go to our son in the future?

  18. Neither. It’s yours. Period. If Mom didn’t intend for it to be yours, she shouldn’t have given it to her son. If you want to be nice, give it back to her, but understand that you’re doing it because you’re want to, not because you must.

  19. My son got married on May 26. They had about 200 people at their wedding…about 190 of them were my son’s guests – about 10 were her guests. My husband and I gave them the reception. My son left for an overseas military tour on June 4 after 9 days of marriage. They never lived together. He is in Iraq now and they are going to get a divorce. The wedding presents were left at my house and never removed from there. Now his wife wants them. They are from our family and friends and I think they should be returned to the people who purchased them. They were also given quite a bit of money and I have told my son to return that to people. His wife has said that she has no money to give to those people and it was a gift to her.

    Am I right? Should the gifts and money be returned to the people since they were only together for 9 days? By September they were already aware they were going to divorce. I think it is tacky to keep the gifts. And yet, I feel uncomfortable with not letting her take them since they (she and my son) were the recipients.

  20. My guess is that you are far too invested in this. This is not your divorce, even though I know it feels that way. Let it go. Your son has a tough enough challenge ahead of him without having to navigate Mom’s jealousy about wedding gifts.

  21. I won an engagement ring on a radio contest and proposed to my girlfriend. She said yes and 2 yrs later we got married. 2 years into our marriage, she tells me she wants out, no longer wants to be married. I’m willing to go to counseling, try and do whatever I need to do to make the marriage work, she doesn’t. Should she be able to keep the engagement ring and wedding band? I feel like she shouldn’t because I won that ring expressing how much I loved her. We already split our savings and don’t own a house or have kids. The ring has more sentimental value to me than anything. Is there a chance I can get to keep it or am I wasting my time pursuing it? Any input is greatly appreciated.

  22. Yes, there’s a chance, and no, you’re not wasting time. You’re just asking the judge to do something the judge is normally disinclined to do, so you better have a REALLY good argument.

  23. my husband an I are going for a divorce after a short marriage, only 4mos. We have been together for a little over a year. We got engaged two months after we met. He has asked me for my engagement ring back. My parents paid for our wedding bands. Is this engagement ring his or might? he also bought the ring while we were living together. I paid for the bills while he paid for the ring. What is my legal right?

  24. I received an engagement ring and wedding band after four months of dating. Put my house on the market and we were going to get a home togther. He called of the wedding. What should I do?

  25. My brother got married a little over two years ago in a civil ceremony and then almost immediately was sent overseas for a year. He returned and he and his wife were relocated to another state and have been there a year. In the last year she has drained every bit of savings, stocks, re-enlistment and warzone bonuses, monetary wedding gifts, etc. as well as running up several thousand in new bills. He spent several thousand trying to get her visa paperwork through (she’s canadian). Over the summer he financed and held a wedding so that her family could be present. After visiting her family in Canada over Christmas she flew back and told him she would be packing up and leaving in three days. He had NO warning; knew they were both struggling to learn a new town, but thought they were riding it out. She has now left the country. He is devastated, obviously, but thinks she might come back. We are not. She took EVERYTHING. She is across the border in Canada now, too, which concerns us quite a bit. What should he be doing to protect himself in lieu of $4K ring, car, personal property, new cell phone contract, car insurance, cosmetic dental bills, etc…? What is he rightfully due? He is hand to mouth now because she has taken or spent everything…

  26. My guess is that you’re asking the wrong guy. Now that your brother and his wife have lived outside Alabama for a year, Alabama law no longer applies. Instead, the law that should apply is that of the state where they lived before they separated.

  27. After 22 years of marriage to my high school sweetheart she tells me she never loved me and only married me because she didnt think anyone else would ask her. I would like the engagement ring back to give to our daughter when she graduates from university (it is meant to be a keep sake for her) my ex is likely to just toss it in a wishing well or something foolish like that. its not an expensive ring but it has sentimental value to our daughter. we live in canada so do i have a right to get the ring back?

  28. I can’t speak for Canada. In my state you would have a low chance of getting it back over Mom’s objections. Let it go. Let it be between Mom and her daughter – not your fight.

  29. I live near Kansas City, Missouri. My ex-wife and I were married 10 years. She filed for divorce on 5/26/07 and the divorce was final 8/6/07, she remarried on 11/17/07. We have 3 children between the ages of 3 & 7. I never thought about asking for the ring at the time because I was emotionally wiped out over the whole thing. Hovever, recently I requested that she return it. She laughed and said it was gone. The ring was worth $3400 new. What are my chances of getting it back or recouping what she received? Are there any cases that I could refer too?

  30. My Nephew got married in May and by August his wife was not into it and it turned out didn’t want to stay married and possibly was entertaining ideas of another man or her boss. My Nephew tried to work it out and went to her therapist but inevitably they decided to part. She however has kept all the gifts (except for mine, I asked him to get it from her). What is the legal and ethical thing to do? I would assume he should get the gifts given by his wedding party and she by hers? The marriage didn’t even last 6 mos.

    Any advice?

  31. Typically, that’s what would be done after such a short-term marriage. He keeps the gifts from his family and friends, and she keeps those from hers. After a lengthier marriage, everything gets more blurry.

  32. I live in colorado. My wife and I are going through a divorce. we only lived together about a month after the wedding and then broke up. she took all the rings even mine all the wedding money/gifts and refused to put me on her medical insurance im now stuck with $10,000 in medical bills. do I have any right to any of this?

  33. 10 months of marraige, bought her a new car that I’m still paying on and the ring I’m still paying on as well, we would agreed on all aspects of seperation except for the ring. She is a full time student working part time, which all of her checks go into her savings alone. The ring was $7k, I still owe $4500. She says it’s an unconditional gift, I said it’s conditional, whatever the case may be, she was unreasonable with the idea to sell it, her keep the profit and just pay off what I owe. Am I stuck with the ring payment?

  34. You’re both right, but she’s right and you’re wrong where it matters. Yes, the ring was a conditional gift. The condition was satisfied when you and she said “I do.”

    It’s hers. If you can wheedle it from her, have at it, but a judge is unlikely to force her to give it back.

  35. In Wyoming, what is the “wedding ring” law after divorce…who’s property is it and if it is sold, who has the rights to the money?

  36. Ok, in Alabama (Montgomery or Elmore Cty) what about the law there? There was NO marriage, no official proposal with email evidence to substantiate. Ring was jointly purchased in two parts. Diamond where she paid $1700ish and I paid $4500. Band where she paid $1000 and I reimbursed her $500 with intention of paying the rest. Long story short, the “ship hit the sand” and we didn’t make it – it was ultimately me who called it off…but it was over long before this. There was no relationship for a while, no communication, constant fights, etc. (Does fault even matter?) She said she is keeping it all for her “damages” that she paid towards the wedding. I say it wasn’t entirely her’s yet, and the only reason she has possession is because I didn’t live in her town (thus, no address) but was temporarily working there. So her hous eseemed logical since her dad was going to take care of the mounting, insuring, appraising, etc. Is this a “conditional gift” “incomplete gift” or “joint investment” It is my contention that the element of intent was not met…intent was FUTURE – this not satisfied and I think she should give me my valued interest back. Can I get attorney’s fees? Thanks.

  37. I have confidence on the main issue: that is, to the extent one prospective spouse gives another prospective spouse an engagement ring, it’s a conditional gift that’s due to be returned if the marriage fails to occur. I don’t have that confidence when both spouses contribute to that ring, and I certainly don’t have any confidence about an award of attorney’s fees. I’m sorry.

  38. Was engaged and he called it off May of 2008. I bought my dress and my girls had their dresses already. Parents put down money on the hall and everything! Wedding was in August. I’m out $1,200.00 for the dress and my girls are out $180.00 each for theirs. My parents are out $5,000.00. Do I have to give the ring back? I’m in Indiana.

    Please help!

  39. I’m so sorry. And doubly sorry because I don’t know IN law and can’t answer your question. It may be worth a phone call to an IN family lawyer. Sounds like it would help your parents’ feelings for you to keep the ring.

  40. Thanks for the help. I did do some checking and I will have to give it back. Its considered an “conditional” gift. However, did find out through calling the court house that I can counter sue for the expenses we lost towards the wedding. The clerk couldn’t tell me if anyone has ever done that or not, but I guess its worth a try. In your opinion, would this be worth getting a lawyer for? Small claims court only goes up to $6,000.00 here in my county. What do you think?

  41. I am in AL and my Fiancee decided decided that after almost a year engagement she was not happy with the way things were going nor was she happy that she had moved to AL from SC. She packed up and moved back. We were scheduled to be married 1-31-09. She had said she would return the ring. However she is now unsure she should have called things off and still has the ring. Now I hear from her that she will take it to the jeweler but has about $4k worth of wedding related expenses (including the dress and deposits). I believe that she is thinking she gets her half of the ring??? The ring was rather expensive (over $10K) and she has always been a bit spoiled. Any suggestions on how to resolve this?

  42. I’ll let you decide how patient you are. When you decide it’s been long enough, you probably need to tell her (politely at first) to fish or cut bait.

  43. i’m going through a divorce right now and live in va. my soon to be ex is in the navy overseas right now but he has it in his head that im having a affair. Which im not. do i have to give him the ring back

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