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When the Wedding Doesn't Happen, What Happens to the Engagement Ring?

Marriage proposals come in all shapes and sizes, but no matter how they happen, most are accompanied by an engagement ring. A time-honored tradition, the gifting of an engagement ring is realistically more than just a romantic gesture and promise. It is also often a substantial investment.

Unfortunately, not all engagements pan out as planned. In fact, estimates suggest that as many as 20 to 25 percent of engagements in the U.S. don’t actually end in marriage. While broken engagements are personal matters unique to the couples involved, they can also introduce more practical concerns, especially when it comes to determining what happens to the engagement ring.

Laws Concerning Irrevocable Gifts

In the most basic terms, engagement rings are a gift, albeit an emotionally significant and sometimes very expensive gift. Under laws associated with “irrevocable” gifts, meaning gifts that cannot be taken away from the recipient by the person who gave it to them, there must be several elements involved:

  • The recipient must have knowingly and willingly accepted the gift (i.e. engagement ring);
  • The gift must have been delivered to the recipient (i.e. placed on their finger during a proposal or at a later time). Arguments that a ring was purchased with the intent to gift it to the recipient in the future are not enough to show actual delivery; and
  • The party which delivered the ring must have had the intent to give it to the recipient as a gift.

Under laws concerning irrevocable gifts, it may appear as though a person who received an engagement ring, had their wedding and marriage called off, and had circumstances satisfying the primary elements mentioned above would own the engagement ring outright. However, that may not always be the case, especially in Texas.

Engagement Rings, Gifts & Texas Law

In many circumstances, Texas laws vary from the generally applied laws concerning irrevocable gifts. That’s because Texas law views engagement rings as conditional gifts. This is a distinct difference, as conditional gifts can be taken back by the party who gifted them if the event which prompted the delivery of the gift does not actually happen. For example, a person who receives a Christmas present has the right to keep that present no matter what happens, as gifts given for holidays are not subject to the performance of any other event. In Texas, engagement rings aren’t treated the same, and are predicated on a wedding and legal marriage.

To help better illustrate this concept, consider the following:

  • Engagement rings are conditional gifts under Texas law because the wedding / marriage is the condition for which they are gifted.
  • A person who proposes to their partner and who gives them an engagement ring does so with the intent that they will be married.
  • Once a wedding occurs and a couple is married, the engagement ring would then become the recipient’s property, as the condition for which the gift was given will be satisfied.
  • If the wedding does not occur and a couple does not get married, the condition has not been met, and the engagement ring is not considered irrevocable property.

Texas Courts May Consider Fault for Broken Engagements

Family law cases over who keeps the engagement ring have long been filed by formerly engaged couples. In Texas, case law involving courts overseeing these matters shows that Texas courts may consider fault in order to determine possession, particularly when it comes to who was responsible for the end of marriage plans. There are a few different scenarios for these types of cases:

  • The giver of the ring is at fault – Texas courts have ruled that if the party who gives an engagement ring to another is responsible for ending the engagement (or at least most at fault), they are not entitled to having the ring returned by the recipient.
  • The recipient of the ring is at fault – If the party who received the engagement ring is responsible for ending the engagement, Texas courts have held that the ring should be returned to the person who gifted it.
  • When there is a prenup – If engaged couples entered into a prenuptial agreement, and addressed what should happen to the ring should the marriage not occur, courts will uphold the terms of those agreements, even if the conditional gift rule would apply, provided that both parties signed the written agreement.

Like other divorce and family law cases, including those involving issues such as child custody, family judges will base their determinations over the fate on an engagement ring on the individual facts and circumstances of a case, as well as any evidence presented by each side. This creates the potential for both parties to present arguments as to who is at fault (or most responsible) for the end of the engagement, which can be a matter for which experienced attorneys are beneficial.

What About After a Divorce?

While we have focused on what happens to an engagement ring in the event that weddings and marriages don’t actually occur, there are also many people who have questions about their engagement ring when they do get married, but later get divorced. In Texas, the answer to this issue in most cases is fairly straightforward. Regardless of who files for divorce after a legal marriage, an engagement ring will remain the property of the person who has worn it during the marriage, as the condition has been met for the ring to be considered an irrevocable gift.

There may be rare exceptions to this rule, particularly if a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement signed by both spouses outlines what happens to the ring. There may also be circumstances during divorce negotiations, including those regarding property division, where spouses may attempt to reach a compromise over having the engagement ring returned to the party who gifted it. This may happen in cases where the engagement ring is a generational heirloom passed through families, and has a different level of importance to the person who gifted it. Still, the recipient spouse is under no legal obligation to return the ring, but may choose to do so if they wish, or in exchange for the negotiated awarding of other property.

Hendershot, Cannon & Hisey, P.C.: Proven Houston Divorce & Family Law Attorneys

Our divorce and family law team at Hendershot, Cannon & Hisey, P.C. has been protecting the rights and interests of clients throughout Texas for years. If you have questions about an engagement ring and whether it should be your property, or wish to discuss any other divorce or family law related matter, our award-winning attorneys are readily available to review your case and see how we can help. Contact us online or call (713) 909-7323 to speak with an attorney.

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