By: LINDSEY O'NEILL, ESQ.
I've just become aware of some websites that help you sell the jewelry your ex gave you after you've broken up. Some might say, what a great idea! Would you really ever wear the stuff again? How would your current boyfriend feel if you wore those fantastic diamond earrings from the ex while you're kissing him? What about broken engagements? I guess some gals save the ring for those special memories... but others are apparently selling them off. Which brings up a question I hear a lot: When a couple breaks off an engagement, who is legally entitled to the ring?
Consider a common scenario: Couple dates for 3 years, lives together for 2, engaged for 1. Then, something happens and one of them breaks off the engagement. Someone moves out. Does he ask for the ring back? Does she volunteer it? Wasn't it a gift? Does it matter who broke off the wedding? Does the "fault" of the break-up matter? Well, lucky for us, the courts have had many an opportunity to consider these very issues!
Some courts treat an engagement ring just like any other gift - it’s a gift and that’s it. Once given, there is no obligation to return it because it becomes the legal property of the recipient. In this situation, the intended bride gets to keep the ring if the couple breaks up.
Other courts treat it as a "conditional gift" - meaning it only legally becomes a gift to the recipient upon the happening of some future event, like a marriage. The bride-to-be can wear the ring up until the wedding day, of course, but it doesn't legally become her property until the couple actually gets married. In the "conditional gift" situation, if the couple breaks up before the wedding, the question of who is entitled to the ring may turn on the fault of the parties (i.e. who "prevented" the condition from occurring). In many states, the person who did the breaking up forfeits his/her right to the ring.
But, there is one little problem with the "It was your fault, so I get to keep the ring" approach. Most of the time with break-ups... the "fault" issue can get pretty dicey. Did the couple break up because she cheated? But what if she cheated only after he emotionally abandoned her, spending all his time at work and with his buddies - who is at fault there? Did he fight with her on purpose to make her miserable enough to break it off? Did she promise a certain kind of life that she just couldn't live up to? Often, it becomes a he-said, she-said kind of situation, which many courts are reluctant to decipher. Depending on the value of the ring, you may not even shell out the legal fees to exercise your legal options regarding the ring.
So then what? Whether he keeps the ring or she keeps the ring.... what do you do with it after a break up? Do you think he would sell it if he could? Would she? From the trend in these websites.... looks like there is a big aftermarket for ex-couple jewelry! Maybe some couples can just agree to sell it and split the proceeds... Some very proactive couples enter into an agreement about it beforehand spelling out what happens. Hey, an ounce of prevention, right? Lawyers are increasingly drafting all kinds of living-together contracts, premarital agreements, and the like. Either that or just don't break up. : )
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