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When a wedding is called off, who keeps the ring?

Virginia residents who have called off a wedding at some point may have dealt with the sticky issue of who keeps the engagement ring. Some people might think that even if a wedding is canceled, the ring-receiver should keep the ring because it was a gift. Others say the giver should get the ring back because he or she purchased it. Another argument might be that whoever pulled the plug should allow the other party to have the ring. And what about when a couple does go through with the wedding, but then files for divorce? Who gets to keep the wedding rings after divorce?

These are complicated family law questions that many people feel strongly about because, for one thing, engagement rings tend to be expensive, and for another, they typically have quite a bit of sentiment attached to them. In a case that was filed late last month in New York, a man is actually suing his former fiancée in an attempt to get her to turn over the ring.

According to a news report, the man gave his fiancée a $10,000 ring in May of 2012. Less than one month later, the couple decided not to marry. The woman apparently kept the ring, and now her former fiancé wants it back as well as compensatory and punitive damages in addition to court costs.

The reason for the cancellation of the nuptials was not provided in the news report.

So, who is in the right here?

In fact, these disputes are so common that most states do have laws on the books regarding this very issue. Under New York law, where this case was filed, engagement rings are considered to be conditional gifts, the condition being marriage. So, if the condition of marriage is not met, the engagement ring is to be given back to the giver. Here in Virginia spouses cannot sue each other for civil damages if a marriage is called off, and this has extended to engagement ring lawsuits. Thus, engagement rings are unconditional gifts.

There are always exceptions, however. In some cases, couples enter into agreements that rings will be returned if an engagement to marry is canceled. In other cases, parties can negotiate a property settlement agreement outside of court.

Like many family law questions, this is a complicated one that may require legal guidance.

Source: Newsroom Jersey, "Man Sues Hillsborough Woman for $10,000 Ring in Broken Engagement Battle," April 26, 2013

Source: FindLaw, "What Happens to the Engagement Ring in a Broken Engagement?" 2013

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