Do you have to give back an engagement ring in a broken engagement?

What to Do with an Engagement Ring After a Breakup

Do you have to give back an engagement ring in a broken engagement?

Do you have to give back an engagement ring in a broken engagement?

What to Do with an Engagement Ring After a Breakup

broken engagement header 2 - Do you have to give back an engagement ring in a broken engagement?Broken engagements can be a stressful, heart-wrenching time as you seemingly start over in life and love. While things are often overlooked as one person packs up to move out, the question of who gets the engagement ring will usually come up.

In some cases, the couple comes to a mutual agreement about the ring after the relationship ends, but others turn to etiquette and to the law of their state to make their decision.

In this article we will examine both common etiquette answers and provide a thorough state-by-state rundown of all the relevant engagement ring laws.

Broken Engagement Ring Etiquette

Traditionally, an engagement ring is returned to the giver if the bride-to-be initiated the break-up or if it was mutual. If the giver ended the relationship, the wearer often keeps the ring or is given the option on what to do with the ring. Even in those instances, the recipient will often return the ring to her ex-fiance.

Heirloom Engagement Ring Etiquette

The etiquette surrounding heirloom jewelry is different as these items have been passed down through a specific family and hold sentimental value. Giving back anything that is an heirloom or holds special sentimental value is generally the right thing to do.

Can the Groom Ask for an Engagement Ring Back?

The giver of the engagement ring can ask for it back, especially if it was an heirloom piece or the couple lives in a state where the law views the ring as a conditional gift.

In some instances, they may have to initiate an action or file a claim to get the ring back before it is sold or given away to someone else. Depending on your state and the value of the ring, you may be able to process the claim through small claims court. It is a good idea to consult an attorney to learn about your options.

How to Ask for an Engagement Ring Back

If your ex-fiance hasn’t returned the ring and you believe that it should be returned, try to approach them in a non-confrontational manner. Plan out what you will say in advance, then give them a call. Try to avoid both face-to-face and text when it comes to this conversation. Talking to someone face-to-face can sometimes feel more confrontational than a phone call. If your ex-fiance feels threatened or pushed into giving the ring back, it could potentially cause legal issues in the future.

Explain to her why you believe you are entitled to the ring and kindly ask for its return. Listen to what she has to say and be sensitive. In most mutual break-ups an agreement can be made when both parties are civil.

Benefits of Giving the Ring Back After an Amicable Breakup

Even if you aren’t required to give the ring back to your ex, there are a few benefits on returning it:

  • Maintain friendship – many couples find that a romantic relationship isn’t suited for them, but wish to stay friends. Giving the ring back will make it easier to remain amicable.
  • Social impact – if you and your ex have mutual friends, keeping things kind between the two of you will put less strain on your other relationships.

How to Return an Engagement Ring

If you choose to return the ring (or are required by your state to do so) to your ex, give it back as soon as you can to help tie off loose ends. Rings can be lost or misplaced and it may cause issues if it can’t be found. If you are worried about potential legal problems, document the return or take witnesses with you. Be kind and don’t use the opportunity to start a fight or relive the breakup.

If you still have the box or information about the ring, give them back with the ring. Depending on the dealer’s policy, the ring may be able to be returned to the store. When it comes to returning or selling diamond engagement rings, proper documentation and packaging may help.

Engagement ring law

broken engagement ring law - Do you have to give back an engagement ring in a broken engagement?

The question often asked is: do you legally have to give back an engagement ring?

The laws surrounding who gets the diamonds after a break-up varies from state to state. Even within the state, there are often clauses that will award the property to either party depending on certain circumstances. If your research into your state’s guidelines leave you confused or disappointed, it is a good idea to contact a legal agent to assist you.

We’ll first look at some of the basic legal principles that surround engagement rings, and then look at the engagement ring laws for all 50 US states.

Engagement Rings As Conditional Gifts

Engagement rings are often classified under the law as conditional gifts.

A conditional gift is one that is given with the assumption that a future event (in this case, a wedding) will take place. If the engagement comes to an end without a wedding, the condition of the gift isn’t fulfilled.

Some women argue that the act of saying “yes” to the proposal fulfilled the act, but this generally doesn’t hold up in court.

There are occasionally exceptions to this rule. For instance, in some states, if one of the parties was already married at the time of the proposal, the ring isn’t considered a conditional gift. As bigamy isn’t allowed, the parties aren’t legally allowed to enter another “contract” toward a future marriage.

Other exceptions may be if the ring was given at a holiday time e.g. Christmas, or on a birthday. In these cases, it would be argued that it was a regular gift, rather than a conditional gift.

Engagement Rings As Unconditional Gifts

An unconditional gift is one without any conditions attached to it. The giving of the gift immediately completes the transaction.

For states that view engagement rings as conditional gifts, thering doesn’t need to be returned to the giver for any reason. The bride is free to return the ring if she wishes, but the law will remain on her side if she chooses to keep it.

Engagement Rings as Implied Conditional Gifts

Some states view engagement rings as implied conditional gifts.

In these cases, the ring is generally returned if the bride ends the engagement because she broke the condition.

However, if the groom ends the relationship, he typically won’t get the ring back as it was he who (typically) initiated the proposal and “condition.”

‘Fault’ vs. ‘No fault’

The final distinction to be aware of is ‘fault’ vs. ‘no fault’. This is a common principle used in divorce cases, and some states follow the same rule when making a decision on an engagement ring.

In a state that follows the ‘fault’ rule, the party who is judged to have been responsible for the relationship breaking down is taken into consideration when deciding who should keep the engagement ring.

However, it can be very difficult to provide beyond doubt who is at fault for a relationship failing, so most states now follow the ‘modern’ no fault rule ie. the person who is at fault for the breakdown of the relationship, or initiates the break-up, is disregarded when making the decision on who get to keep the ring.

State by state guide to engagement ring laws

If all of the above sounds complicated, we’ve collated legal precedents and laws for all 50 states relating to engagement rings below.

The key to the colors on the map are as follows:

colour no fault - Do you have to give back an engagement ring in a broken engagement?

State follows ‘no fault’ rule

colour purple - Do you have to give back an engagement ring in a broken engagement?

State uses ‘at fault’ rule

colour pink - Do you have to give back an engagement ring in a broken engagement?

Law is currently unsettled

colour blue - Do you have to give back an engagement ring in a broken engagement?

State views engagement rings as non-conditional gifts

One thing to know though is that there can exceptions to some rules in every state and if you believe you have a case, you should contact an attorney and discuss legal options.


Alabama engagement ring law

While there are no case law examples to refer to, it seems like that a fault-based approach is taken to deciding who gets to keep the ring. Leigh Daniel of Leigh Daniel Family Law – a Divorce lawyer in Huntsville, Alabama has been quoted as saying:

“In Alabama, the engagement ring stays with the woman if the man breaks the engagement. If the woman breaks the engagement, it stays with the man.”

Alaska engagement ring law

Alaska doesn’t seem to have any legal precedent on the subject, but Peggy Roston – a lawyer based in Anchorage indicates that Alaska uses a fault-based approach to decide who keeps the ring is an engagement breaks down:

“An engagement ring is considered a gift in Alaska. If the engagement is broken, a fault-based process is used to determine who gets to keeps the ring. In this case, the ring will stay with the person who did not break the engagement.”

Arizona engagement ring law

Arizona treats engagement rings as conditional gifts, and doesn’t make exemptions or allowances for fault. Basically, if the wedding doesn’t happen — for whatever reason — the ring goes back to the giver.

Arkansas engagement ring law

Arkansas law is still unsettled on who gets to keep the ring when an engagement breaks down before a marriage occurs.

In a 2015 case, a judge did rule that a woman could keep her engagement ring after her fiance was unfaithful which caused the breakup. However, this didn’t set a ‘fault-based’ precedent – Judge Troy Braswell, Jr said:

“The Court is not adopting a fault based rule concerning the ultimate ownership of the engagement ring”

California engagement ring law

The California law relevant to engagement rings is: California Civil Code § 1590., which says:

Where either party to a contemplated marriage in this State makes a gift of money or property to the other on the basis or assumption that the marriage will take place, in the event that the donee refuses to enter into the marriage as contemplated or that it is given up by mutual consent, the donor may recover such gift or such part of its value as may, under all of the circumstances of the case, be found by a court or jury to be just.

In non-legal speak, this basically means that in California, an engagement ring is viewed as a conditional gift under the ‘no fault’ statutes.

This means that the engagement ring must be given back to the purchaser if the engagement is broken off and the marriage never occurs.

Colorado engagement ring law

Colorado treats engagement rings as conditional gifts, but there are some caveats.

  • If the receiver of the ring ends the relationship, then they must return the ring
  • If the person who presented the ring calls off the wedding, then they have no rights to receive the ring back. Their former partner was willing to go through with the ‘conditions’ of the gift ie. get married, but were unable to.
  • Equally, if the person who gave the ring behaved in such a way that meant that the conditions of the gift can’t be fulfilled e.g. they were unfaithful, which ended the relationship, then they are not entitled to have the ring returned.

The person who received the ring may also be entitled to keep it if the breakup was the fault of the giver, but the case law is pretty murky when it comes to determining fault.

Connecticut engagement ring law

In Connecticut, an engagement ring is viewed as a conditional gift under the ‘no fault’ or ‘modern’ approach to broken engagements, which means that no matter which party broke the engagement, the engagement ring should be returned to the person who gave it as a gift.

Delaware engagement ring law

Delaware considers engagement rings to be conditional gifts, and uses a fault-based approach to determine ownership.

If the recipient calls off the wedding without fault on the giver’s part, or the breakup is mutual, then the ring has to go back. But if the giver calls off the wedding and the recipient wasn’t at fault, then the ring is theirs.

Florida engagement ring law

In Florida, engagement rings are viewed as conditional gifts which means that the ring goes back to the giver if the breakup is mutual, or the recipient calls off the wedding. The legal precedent can be found here.

However, subsequent cases have indicated that if the person who gives the ring breaks the engagement, the ring may be retained by the heartbroken party.

The outcome of any future cases would be dependent on a judge’s decision.

Georgia engagement ring law

An engagement ring is viewed as a conditional gift in Georgia, which means that generally it should be returned to the person who gave the engagement ring if the marriage did not occur.

However, if there are any disputes or complexity, a decision would be made on a case-by-case basis and would be dependent on a judge’s decision,

Hawaii engagement ring law

There doesn’t currently seem to be any legal precedent on who gets to keep the ring in the event of a broken engagement in Hawaii. When asked, Honolulu-based lawyer Steven J. Kim has been quoted as saying:

“There is no law in Hawaii for who gets the ring”.

However, Hawaii is a ‘no-fault state’ when it comes to divorce law, so it’s likely that ‘no fault’ would also apply to engagement rings and they would be viewed as a conditional gift and returned to the giver. However, this is not certain and we would recommend consulting a local lawyer.

Idaho engagement ring law

It appears that there has not been a precedent set on whether an engagement ring is viewed as a conditional gift in Idaho, and therefore must be returned if a marriage does not take place.

It’s likely that an Idaho court would view an engagement ring as a conditional gift, but it’s not possible to say whether they would a ‘no fault’ rule where the ring is returned to the giver regardless of who is at fault for the breakdown of the relationship, or whether an ‘at fault’ ruling may be applied where the ring is kept by the person who is not ‘at fault’ for the engagement ending.

Illinois engagement ring law

In Illinois, engagement rings are viewed as conditional gifts. If the wedding is called off, it goes back to the ring giver, irrespective of fault or reason.

Indiana engagement ring law

Indiana treats engagement rings as conditional gifts that must be returned regardless of who caused the marriage to not take place. This is known as ‘no fault’

Iowa engagement ring law

Iowa established that engagement rings are a conditional gift, dependent on the marriage taking place in Fierro vs. Hoel (1990).

This case set the precedent that in the event that an engagement is ended, the ring is returned no matter who is at fault for the breakdown of the relationship.

Kansas engagement ring law

In Kansas, engagement rings are viewed as conditional gifts and are subject to the ‘no fault law’ ie. they must be returned to the person who gave the ring if an engagement is ended, regardless for who is at fault for the breakdown.

The case that set this precedent was Heiman vs. Parrish (1997).

Kentucky engagement ring law

In Kentucky, as in most states, an engagement ring is viewed as a ‘conditional gift’ dependent on a marriage taking place.

The relevant case law is Kohen vs. Sellar (1926), which said that if the recipient calls off the marriage the ring must be returned.

However, Kentucky law is less clear about what should happen if the person who gave the ring calls off the marriage and there does not appear to be a legal precedent on this.

Louisiana engagement ring law

Louisiana treats engagement rings as conditional gifts that must be returned in the event that an engagement ends, regardless of who caused the marriage not to take place – a legal precedent set in Busse v. Lambert (2000).

Maine engagement ring law

Maine is a ‘fault-based’ state when it comes to divorce, which means that decisions are made in favour of the person who is not at fault for a relationship breaking down.

In Maine, engagement rings are usually viewed as conditional gifts ie. they are given under the understanding that a marriage will happen.

If the recipient breaks off the engagement without justification, the ring has to be returned.

However, if the engagement is ended by the person who gave the ring, or by mutual consent, then the recipient is allowed to keep the ring, as determined in O’Brien vs. Huddock (1984).

Maryland engagement ring law

In Maryland, an engagement ring is considered a ‘conditional gift’ – given with the expectation that a marriage will occur in the future

If a relationship breaks down and there is no marriage then the condition of the gift is not met, which means that the person who gave the ring has the right to receive it back.

Massachusetts engagement ring law

In Massachusetts, engagement rings are viewed as conditional gifts, but unlike many other states, Massachusetts doesn;t automatically return the ring to the person who gave it if an engagement ends. Instead, a fault-based’ approach is taken, with the person who is not at fault for the relationship breaking down usually being allowed to keep the ring.

In the case of Poirer v. Radd (1995), the precedent was set that the person giving the ring can recover it, even if they ended the relationship, if they can prove that there was just cause due to the behaviour of the recipient.

Conversely, De Cicco v. Barker (1959) found that if the ring recipient ends the engagement with no fault on the part of the ring giver, the ring should be returned.

Michigan engagement ring law

In Michigan, engagement rings are viewed as conditional gifts and are subject to the ‘no fault law’ ie. they must be returned to the person who gave the ring if an engagement is ended, regardless for who is at fault for the breakdown. The case that set this precedent was Meyer vs. Mitnick (1996).

Minnesota engagement ring law

In Minnesota, an engagement ring is viewed as a conditional gift under the ‘no fault’ or ‘modern’ approach to broken engagements, which means that no matter which party broke the engagement, the engagement ring should be returned to the person who gave it as a gift.

Mississippi engagement ring law

In Mississippi, engagement rings are viewed as ‘conditional gifts’ ie. given with the anticipation that a marriage will occur

If an engagement is ended, the ring must be returned to the giver irrespective of who caused the relationship end. This is known as ‘no fault’

Missouri engagement ring law

In Clippard v. Pfefferkorn, the Missouri Court of Appeals decided to take a fault-based approach to engagement rings.

According to the ruling, if the ring recipient breaks the engagement or is otherwise at fault, then the ring must be returned.

Conversely, if the ring giver breaks off the engagement without justification, then the recipient gets to keep the ring.

Montana engagement ring law

Unlike most other states, Montana doesn’t seem to consider an engagement ring to be a ‘conditional gift’ ie. one that is dependent on a marriage taking place.

Engagement rings in Montana are viewed as a gift just like any other, and under Montana law a gift is viewed as complete upon delivery and cannot be revoked – the relevant case is Albinger vs. Harris (2002).

Nebraska engagement ring law

Nebraska treats engagement rings as conditional gifts that were presented in anticipation of a marriage occurring.

If the engagement is ended and the marriage does not take place, the engagement ring must be returned to the ring giver regardless of who caused the marriage to not take place. This is known as ‘no fault’

Nevada engagement ring law

While there is no published opinion from the Nevada Supreme Court on who should receive an engagement ring in the event that a relationship breaks down before a marriage can occur, general opinion is that Nevada would follow the “general rule” where an engagement ring is viewed as a ‘conditional gift’, dependant on a marriage taking place.

If no marriage occurs then the conditions of the gift are not fulfilled and the ring still belongs to the ring giver and should be returned.

New Hampshire engagement ring law

New Hampshire is a fault-based state, which means that the person who is ‘at fault’ for ending the relationship is considered when decided who should keep an engagement ring.

New Jersey engagement ring law

In New Jersey, engagement rings are viewed as conditional gifts, given ‘in contemplation of marriage. If a relationship breaks down before a wedding happens, the ring should be returned to the giver, irrespective of who was at fault for ending the engagement.

New Mexico engagement ring law

New Mexico is a no-fault state, which means that the engagement ring must be returned to the giver if the wedding doesn’t take place.

The person who ended the engagement and the reason for the breakup is irrelevant in this decision.

New York engagement ring law

The New York State law relevant to engagement rings is: CIVIL RIGHTS LAW SECTION 80-b.

In New York State, an engagement ring is considered a conditional gift, which means that if the engagement doesn’t result in marriage the ring should be returned to the giver, even if the recipient leaves the state.

However, if one of the parties was already married at the time of the proposal then the agreement to marry is void as it was made as bigamy is illegal in New York. This means that the ring was not given in “contemplation of the marriage” and the ring is therefore no longer viewed as a conditional gift, but rather as a ‘regular’ gift, which means that it doesn’t need to be returned.

North Carolina engagement ring law

North Carolina follows the ‘modern’ trend, where engagement rings are regarded as conditional gifts that must be returned to the ring giver if the wedding doesn’t take place, regardless of who is at fault for the engagement ending.

North Dakota engagement ring law

Unlike most other states, an engagement ring isn’t necessarily seen as a ‘conditional gift’ which should be returned if the conditions of the gift (the marriage) isn’t fulfilled.

In a 1992 case, Kohler v. Flynn, the judge ruled that the ring was an unconditional gift and did not need to be returned.

However, depending on the circumstances of a new case, the Kohler v. Flynn judgement may not set a precedent, and the result may be different.

Ohio engagement ring law

Ohio treats engagement rings as conditional gifts, and doesn’t make exemptions or allowances for fault. If the marriage doesn’t happen then the ring must be returned to the ring giver, regardless of who was at fault for the relationship ending. The case that set the relevant precedent was Lyle v. Durham (1984)

Oklahoma engagement ring law

Like most states in the US, Oklahoma treats engagement rings as ‘conditional gifts’ ie. a gift given on the understanding that a marriage will take place. If the marriage does not happen, then the ring must be returned to the ring giver, regardless of who was at fault for the relationship ending.

Oregon engagement ring law

There are few legal precedents in Ohio that can help us understand the court’s likely position on whether a ring should be returned in the case of a broken engagement. However, the Oregon Legal research blog includes opinions from several lawyers that the ring is regarded as a conditional gift, given in contemplation of marriage.

However there is no information on whether who is at fault for a relationship breaking down and a marriage not taking place would be taken into account to decide who should keep the engagement ring.

Pennsylvania engagement ring law

Pennsylvania uses the ‘no fault’ approach to deciding on who should keep the engagement ring in the event that a marriage doesn’t happen after an engagement: the ring should be returned to the ring giver, regardless of who was at fault. The case that established this was Lindh v. Surman (1999).

Rhode Island engagement ring law

There doesn’t seem to be any legal precedents on who should keep the ring in the event that an engagement breaks down and a marriage doesn’t happen. Our recommendation here is to contact a local attorney and ask for their opinion

South Carolina engagement ring law

In South Carolina, engagement rings are viewed as conditional gifts and it is likely that they should be returned to the ring giver if a marriage doesn’t happen, regardless of who is at fault for the breakdown of the relationship.

South Dakota engagement ring law

According to Kylie Marie Riggins of Riggins Family Law located in South Bend, an engagement ring is a gift given in contemplation of marriage so if the marriage occurred it is no longer the recipient’s and should be returned.

Tennessee engagement ring law:

As with many other status in the US, in Tennesse engagement rings are viewed as conditional gifts dependent on the marriage taking place. If the relationship breaks down and the marriage doesn’t happen then the ring must be returned, regardless of who is ‘at fault’ for the relationship ending. The most recent relevant case here is Crippen vs. Campbell (2007).

Texas engagement ring law

Texas treats engagement rings as inherently conditional ie. a gift given on the understanding that a marriage will take place. However, unlike many other states, Texas uses a fault-based approach when determining ownership in the event that a relationship ends before a wedding takes place.

If the ring giver calls off the wedding, then the ring belongs to the recipient (as long as the breakup wasn’t caused by the recipient’s bad behavior).

However, if the recipient calls off the wedding without justification, then the ring belongs to the giver.

For more information on this, you can read the Texas Court of Appeal’s decision in Curtis v. Anderson (2003).

Utah engagement ring law

Utah is one of the few states in the US where the law regarding engagement rings in a broken engagement is still unsettled

It’s likely that Utah courts would consider an engagement ring to be a conditional gift ie. one that is given under the understanding that a marriage would take place. If the marriage doesn’t then the terms of the agreement haven’t been fulfilled and the ring is no longer viewed as a gift.

However, there is no legal precedent on whether a Utah court would include which of the parties was at fault for the relationship breaking down when deciding who should keep the ring. We recommend you contact a local lawyer to discuss.

Vermont engagement ring law

As per many other states,, in Vermont an engagement ring is a conditional gift, given in contemplation of marriage, is a conditional gift.

There is no legal precedent to be found on whether Vermont is a ‘at fault’ or ‘no fault’ state when it comes to deciding whether the ring would always be returned to the ring giver, or whether this decision would depend on who was at fault for the breakdown of the relationship. As such, we recommend you contact a local lawyer to discuss.

Virginia engagement ring law

As with many other states in the US, Virginia considers engagement rings to be a conditional gift, given under the understanding that a marriage will occur. If the relationship ends before the marriage occurs, the ring should be returned to the ring giver, regardless of who was at fault for the relationship ending. This issue was settled in McGrath v. Dockendorf (2006).

Washington State Engagement Ring Law

In Washington State, an engagement ring is normally considered a conditional gift, which means that it is given on the condition that the couple weds. If the relationship ends and there is no marriage then the conditions of the gift are not fulfilled and the recipient of the ring should return the ring to the giver.

However, there can be exceptions to this and Washington State can sometimes take into account the circumstances of the ending of the relationship to determine who is at fault and therefore who should keep the ring.

Washington Court of Appeals case Washington Spinnell v Quigley (1990) decided on a partially fault-based approach, which indicates that if the recipient of the ring ends the relationship, or if the breakup is mutual, the ring must be returned. However, if the person who gave the ring unjustifiably broke the engagement then the ring recipient is not obligated to return it.

Washington DC Engagement Ring Law

It appears that Washington DC’s stance on what should happen to an engagement ring if an engagement ends without a marriage occuring is currently unsettled.

However, there is currently a high profile case involving a lawyer suing his ex-fiance for the return of a $100k engagement ring which we will be keeping an eye on to see whether a precedent is set.

West Virginia engagement ring law

An engagement ring is treated as a ‘conditional gif’ in West Virginia, as in most other states. This means that it is a gift given in contemplation of marriage. If the marriage does not occur then the terms attached to the gift have not been fulfilled and the ring remains the property of the ring giver and must be returned.

Wisconsin engagement ring law

As in the majority of states in the US, Wisconsin views engagement rings as conditional gifts, given on the understanding that a marriage would take place in the future. If there is no marriage and the relationship ends, the ring must be returned to the ring giver, no matter who was at fault for the relationship breaking down, as per Brown vs. Thomas (1985).

Wyoming engagement ring law

There doesn’t appear to be any legal precedents set on the topic of who should keep an engagement ring in the event that an engagement ends before a wedding occurs.

However, Wyoming is a ‘no fault’ state when it comes to divorce. Many states which are ‘no fault’ for divorce apply this to engagement ring decisions also. This indicates that Wyoming may follow the ‘modern’ decision with engagement rings and return the ring to the ring giver regardless of who was at fault for the relationship breaking down.

But without an existing case to refer to, there is no certainty on this.