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Return of the ring: The engagement is off – so, who gets the ring?

Should you keep your engagement ring if it’s called off? Sarah Jane Lenihan from our London Victoria office joins us on the blog to look at your legal rights, if any.

Last week, news from the US announced that Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson had called off their engagement and split up and that Ariana had given back her engagement ring, reportedly worth $100,000. Nowhere seems to be reporting why the couple has split (my Google research was fruitless) but it did start me thinking about the law and what happens to an engagement ring if the engagement is called off.

Should you keep the ring if your partner was unfaithful, or should you hand the ring back if you were unfaithful? Perhaps the ring is a family heirloom or, like Pete, it cost $100,000. In most cases, when parties mutually agree to end their engagement, the return of the ring is discussed and agreed between the parties, but sometimes it is not that simple, for example, what if the couple split the cost of the ring? Or if the split is acrimonious, who gets the ring can quickly become an issue. So, as family law solicitors, how can we help you?

The law on this one is very straightforward. As I was quoted in the BBC news article just last week, the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970 assists us with this dispute. It states that ‘the gift of an engagement ring shall be presumed to be an absolute gift; this presumption may be rebutted by providing that the ring was given on the condition, express or implied, that it should be returned if the marriage did not take place for any reason.’

This may seem unfair to some of you, but it ultimately means that unless there was an agreement to return the engagement ring if it was called off then the recipient is under no obligation to do so.

However, if there was a condition (express or implied) that the ring would be returned if the engagement was broken off, the recipient would have to give it back. Not the most romantic start to any engagement: a ring and a legal agreement that if you call it off you’ll have to give it back.

It may surprise some people but we regularly have clients coming for advice on this. Coupled with the increase in prenuptial agreements, particularly for high net worth couples where a substantial amount of money is spent on jewellery for an engagement, it is something on the rise.

Problems seem to occur when people are not aware of the law and believe they are “morally” entitled to the engagement ring after a break-up. On the other side, I have also negotiated on the engagement ring when people are not happy with the proposed outcome should they separate.

Ultimately, when discussing this with a client, I will always ask them to consider the cost of the ring and any litigation costs to ensure that they do not cost more than the ring itself.

If you are thinking about a proposal and wish for assistance in safeguarding any gift or have just called off your engagement, please do not hesitate to get in touch with myself or the rest of the team at the contact details below.

Sarah advises on all areas of family law (divorce/dissolution, cohabitation, domestic violence, children) and has worked with a broad spectrum of clients both nationally and internationally.

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  1. Wesley says:

    wow, very informative article, thank you… Wesley Gaj…

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