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If the marriage does not occur, who keeps the ring?

In North Carolina and across the nation, one of the most bitterly-contested issues when an engaged couple decides not to wed is who should keep the engagement ring. An average engagement ring costs approximately $5,000, and it is not uncommon for one of the partners to sue for the return of the ring.

Many states classify the ring as a gift that is contingent upon the wedding taking place. If the couple splits before taking vows, the ring is returned, regardless of who was at fault for the break-up. If the couple marries, then files for divorce later, the ring belongs to the wife. There are, however, some exceptions.

A ring given on a birthday, holiday or other typical gift-giving occasion may be considered an unconditional gift. In Montana, the ring is considered a gift, complete when given: The recipient is allowed to keep the ring, no matter what happens later. In one New York case, a man who was still married when he gave an engagement ring to his intended wife was prevented from getting it back because he was legally incapable of marrying the ring's recipient. Other states look at which partner canceled the wedding.

Because every state has different laws, and circumstances can affect the outcome, married couples who have separated prior to marrying may benefit from speaking with a local family law attorney about the specifics of their case. One way of avoiding an argument later is for engaged couples to list the ring as an asset in a prenuptial agreement or enter a written agreement following engagement.

Source: CNN Money, "The wedding is off! Who gets the engagement ring?," Melanie Hicken, March 23, 2013

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