Who Gets the Ring When the Engagement’s Off?

How gifts are distributed, should breakups happen in Ohio

For whatever reason, engagements are called off every day. Perhaps one partner wasn’t faithful; maybe the other spent too much on the ring. Whatever the reason, many ex-couples find themselves with a legal dilemma: Who owns the property acquired before the wedding?

The Law in Ohio

An engagement ring is a gift offered in anticipation of marriage, regardless of who offered the union. However, it is considered a conditional gift, meaning that a ring is given as part of an implied promise—the promise that one party will marry the other. If there is no wedding, the condition of the gift is not fulfilled, and the gift—or the value of the gift—should be returned. Rings should be returned regardless of who breaks off the engagement, and regardless of the reason.

This “no-fault” approach to dissolutions is specifically tailored in Ohio to the engagement ring. Jilted lovers have found that horses, and other gifts given in anticipation, are seen as merely gifts, and are not automatically returned upon a break.

Exceptions to the rule

One may run into an issue if the proposal happens on a birthday, Christmas or other gift-giving holiday, because gifts given on those days are considered unconditional. Naturally, one does not expect to be compensated for a birthday gift by the receiver of that gift. Therefore, it could be argued that the ring was a birthday gift, and not intended as a conditional gift at all. However, courts have not been swayed by this argument.

There may further be a situation wherein neither party wants the ring. This does not have to be a point of contention, as there are many places—both jewelers and online services—that will buy back a ring that is no longer wanted.

Pre-planning saves costs … and heartaches

The loss and pain involved in a broken engagement can throw individuals into irrational anger. But there are legal ways to protect yourself from potentially costly and drawn-out processes. Though prenuptial agreements and cohabitation agreements can be seen as anti-romantic, they may reduce potential future headaches—especially if passed-down heirlooms are involved.

Relationships are often seen as the milestones of our lives. For better or worse, however, some of them don’t last. If the unfortunate should happen, and there is a dispute over who gets what, an experienced and reputable family law attorney or mediator should be called upon. They can help smooth the rough edges of contention and allow both parties to move on.

For more information on this area, see our overviews of family law, divorce, and mediation and collaborative law.

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