Love is in the air…until it isn’t

Disclaimer: I do not practice family law, and I am not giving legal advice or creating a lawyer/client relationship. As with all posts on this page they are commentary on laws. Please speak to a lawyer who practices family law in your state if you have questions or want legal advice.

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching the idea of proposals made me think a post about engagement rings might be appropriate. When I hear friends and family talk about getting engaged I mention don’t propose on a holiday or day when a gift is traditionally given. The reason why is simple, if the engagement doesn’t work out it is harder to get the engagement ring back afterwards if it was given as a gift (which can be claimed if given say February 14th) vs. given as a condition of a proposal.

While states have different views on the matter, it is most commonly held that if the ring is a condition of the proposal to get married and the wedding does not take place the person who gave the ring gets the ring back. There are plenty of lawsuits over having engagement rings returned. For example, a New York man who purchased an engagement for around $40,000 went to court to get an engagement ring back. In the state of Massachusetts if the donor (person who gives the ring) is not at fault in the ending of the engagement the donor gets the ring back.

The reason is fairly simple, and engagement ring is not a gift it is a conditional gift, meaning there are future conditions that must occur before the item is considered a gift. NOLO does a great job at explaining in non-legal terms what the difference is. Therefore until the wedding actually occurs the engagement is considered a conditional gift, after the wedding it is a gift.

What can complicate the issue is if the engagement ring is given on a day when traditionally gifts are given. Then the matter can get sticky and was the ring a conditional gift or was it a gift given at Christmas? FindLaw does a good job about the requirements for a gift. None of these take into account family heirlooms used for an engagement ring, which add another element into the mix.

I hope your proposal goes well, and if you have any questions please speak to a lawyer in your state that practices family law.


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