Block, Crouch Keeter, Behm & Sayed, LLP

Jamie S. Getty
By Jamie S. Getty

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Broken Engagement: Who Keeps the Ring?

You may have known a couple who got engaged, only to have one party (or maybe both parties) get cold feet. When the wedding is called off, who gets the ring? Should the “dumpee” be entitled to keep the ring because the “dumper” decided to end the engagement? Should the donor always be entitled to the ring? The answer to this question varies state to state.

North Carolina courts take the position that the ring is a “conditional gift,” which means that the gift only vests after a future event (the marriage) occurs. If the wedding is cancelled, ownership of the ring does not transfer and must be returned to the donor of the “gift.” Fault does not factor in to who gets to keep the ring.

Of course, if the prospective bride provided the ring, either purchasing it herself or as a family heirloom used as her engagement ring, she would be entitled to keep it. The general rule gets a bit fuzzy if the prospective bride provided part of the ring. For example, the prospective bride might provide the diamonds and the prospective groom mount them into a new setting. Then the prospective bride will either have to reimburse the prospective groom in order to keep the entire ring, or the diamonds can be removed and returned to her while he keeps the setting.

What if the prospective bride or her family paid for a wedding, only to be left at the altar? While it would seem only fair that she should keep a “gifted” ring to compensate for what she paid towards the doomed wedding, she must still return the ring. However, she is not without recourse. North Carolina recognizes the tort of breach of promise to marry. While she would have to return the ring upon demand, she may nonetheless have a claim against the runaway groom to recoup any money that was spent on nonrefundable deposits.