Engagement Rings, Gifts and Relationship Breakdown
September 29, 2021
Disputes over personal belongings and items of sentimental value during a divorce can be stressful and lead to increased legal costs. A Judge is normally reluctant to get involved in dividing such items and often compromise between spouses is the best way to resolve these matters. However, a Judge does have the power to make the appropriate orders if necessary.
Given the expense of an engagement ring, it is not unheard of for arguments to be made that it should be returned on the breakdown of the marriage or the conclusion of an engagement.
There is a presumption in law that the giving of an engagement ring is an absolute gift and as such, that it should never be returned.
That said, this presumption may be rebutted in certain limited circumstances e.g., where there is evidence that the ring was given on the condition that it should be returned if the marriage did not take place for any reason.
It is difficult to demonstrate clear evidence of such a condition. In the few reported cases about this point, the Judges have rejected arguments that have been advanced by “would be” husbands that their ring was given subject to the condition that it should be returned at some point in the future.
For example, in one case the “husband” argued that the engagement ring should be returned. The Judge found that “having heard the evidence, I regret as implausible the unromantic express remark which Mr Jones says that he made [while on holiday together], that if the relationship broke down, he would want the ring back”.
There may be cases where attaching a condition for the return of a ring may be justified. For example, if the ring was a precious family heirloom, there may be an expectation that it should be returned if the marriage does not go ahead. It would still be best practice to clearly evidence that this is the case and have a written agreement confirming this point.
John Hooper & Co