So you’ve met the love of your life. You are wearing your radiant engagement ring and showing it off for the world to see. But then something happens and you break up before the wedding. That radiant ring has now lost its gleam, but what do you do now?
A broken engagement can be a painful process to work through, with a magnitude of questions about these what-ifs. Was it a gift? Do I return it? Do I keep it? Can I sell it? Fortunately, there are answers to these questions.
Engagement rings fall under property, contract, or family law, and how they are treated varies from state to state. Under North Carolina law, engagement rings are “gifts in contemplation of marriage.” This is where most courts split about engagement rings. A majority of courts see the engagement ring an “implied conditional gift,” meaning that when the marriage fails to ensue, the condition has not been met, and the donor is entitled to recover the engagement ring. Other courts require express conditioning, meaning a verbal statement on the part of the donor. For example, “I love you, but I do want that ring back if it doesn’t work out” would leave the donee to return the ring. While others hold that the ring is a conditional gift, the donee keeps it no matter what.
Although some sources state that in North Carolina, the ring is a conditional gift, there are no North Carolina appellate cases on gifts in contemplation of marriage. Usually, North Carolina courts decide the status of a gift based on the time at which it is given, among other circumstances. If the donor gives the gift after the engagement, courts usually consider this a conditional gift. Implied conditions, however, are recognized in North Carolina, and the fault may be considered.
In other words, this decision will be solely based on the facts of each individual case. Since the law may not be settled, evidence of the engagement may tip the scales in favor of the donor.