Anonymous asked in Family & RelationshipsWeddings · 1 decade ago

After breaking an engagement, do you have to give back the ring if the fiance was unfaithful?

45 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
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    JEROD HEIMAN, Appellee, v. HEATHER L. PARRISH, Appellant.



    1. Unless some contrary intent has been expressed, an engagement ring is, by its very nature, a conditional gift given in contemplation of marriage.

    2. The divergent no-fault and fault-based lines of authority as to which party is entitled to an engagement ring when the engagement is terminated are discussed.

    3. Ordinarily, when an engagement is broken the donor is entitled to return of the engagement ring, and fault as to who broke the engagement is not relevant.

    Appeal from Sedgwick district court, TIMOTHY G. LAHEY, judge. Opinion filed July 24, 1997. Affirmed.

    Tim J. Moore, of Morris, Laing, Evans, Brock & Kennedy, Chartered, of Wichita, argued the cause and was on the briefs for appellant.

    Roger E. McClellan, of Martin, Pringle, Oliver, Wallace & Swartz, L.L.P., of Wichita, argued the cause and was on the brief for appellee.

    The opinion of the court was delivered by

    McFARLAND, C.J.: The issue before us concerns the ownership of an engagement ring after the engagement was terminated.

    The case was called for jury trial. After a brief in-chambers conference (no record of which is before us), the court orally decided the issue in open court. What transpired is concisely journalized as follows:

    "The parties stipulate to the following facts:

    "1. The issue to be determined is the ownership of an engagement ring.

    "2. The plaintiff purchased the engagement ring.

    "3. The ring was given to defendant as an engagement ring in contemplation of marriage between the parties.

    "4. The plaintiff is the party who ended the relationship.

    "5. Neither party stipulates to whose fault caused the relationship to terminate.

    "Based upon the stipulated facts, the pleadings in the Court file, arguments of counsel and the supporting briefs, the Court finds as a matter of law that since the engagement ring was given in contemplation of marriage, the marriage itself is a condition precedent to the ultimate ownership of the ring. Since the parties did not perform the condition of marriage, the purchaser is entitled to the return of the ring. The Court further finds that the issue of who ended the relationship is not determinative of the ownership of the ring.

    . . . .

    "IT IS, THEREFORE ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that the plaintiff is entitled to the return of the engagement ring and costs are assessed to the defendant."

    Defendant appeals therefrom. Additional uncontroverted facts are that the ring was purchased in August 1994 for $9,033. Plaintiff terminated the engagement in October 1995. Defendant refused to return the ring, and this action was filed April 3, 1996. For the sake of simplicity, plaintiff will henceforth be referred as Jerod and defendant will be referred to as Heather.

    The case was determined as a matter of law on stipulated facts.

    Where the controlling facts are based upon written or documentary evidence by way of pleadings, admissions, depositions, and stipulations, the trial court has no peculiar opportunity to evaluate the credibility of witnesses. In such situation, this court on appellate review has as good an opportunity to examine and consider the evidence as did the court below, and to determine de novo what the facts establish. Kneller v. Federal Land Bank of Wichita, 247 Kan. 399, 400, 799 P.2d 485 (1990). This court's review of conclusions of law is unlimited. Gillespie v. Seymour, 250 Kan. 123, 129, 823 P.2d 782 (1991).

    The issues may be summarized as follows. Was the engagement ring a conditional gift given in contemplation of marriage? If this question is answered affirmatively, then, upon termination of the engagement, should ownership of the ring be determined on a fault or no-fault basis? These are issues of first impression in Kansas.

    Conditional Gift

    Heather argues that the gift of an engagement ring should be gauged by the same standards as for any other inter vivos gift, and that, once delivery and acceptance have occurred, the gift is irrevocable. She contends Kansas does not recognize conditional gifts.

    Jerod argues that an engagement ring is inherently a conditional gift, as it is given in contemplation of marriage. If the wedding does not occur, the ring should be returned to its donor.

    To establish a gift inter vivos there must be (a) an intention to make a gift; (b) a delivery by the donor to the donee; and (c) an acceptance by the donee. The gift must be absolute and irrevocable. Herman v. Goetz, 204 Kan. 91, 96, 460 P.2d 554 (1969); see Calvin v. Free, 66 Kan. 466, 470, 71 Pac. 823 (1903). The elements of intent, delivery, and acceptance are usually questions of fact to be determined by the jury. See Hudson, Administrator v. Tucker, 188 Kan. 202, 211, 361 P.2d 878 (1961).

    One of the few Kansas cases involving gifts in contemplation of marriage is Douthitt v. Applegate, 33 Kan. 395, 6 Pac. 575 (1885). The case was described by the court as follows:

    "This was an action brought . . . to set aside a deed of conveyance, and to quiet his title to certain real estate. The deed was executed for the land in controversy by the plaintiff to the defendant on August 14, 1882, and the plaintiff alleges in his petition that it was procured by the defendant through fraud. The facts constituting the alleged fraud are in substance and in brief as follows: The defendant, being a designing and crafty woman, induced the plaintiff, by ardent professions of love and affection, to visit her at her home in Bourbon county. He became very much enamored of her, and visited her frequently. She, designing to defraud him of his property, falsely represented that she was wealthy, falsely professed great love and affection for him, and promised to marry him. She asked him to deed his property to her in order to stop the opposition, as she stated, of her children to their marriage, and promised to deed the land to Fannie C. Shoe, when they were married, and that he should not be poorer for the same, but should be richer. The plaintiff believed that she was sincere in all her professions of love and affection, and in all her promises, and relied upon the same, and he deeded the land to her for no other consideration; but in fact she was not sincere, and never had any intention of marrying him or of performing any of her promises, and afterward refused to marry him and to perform her other promises. He also had much personal property, which he disposed of, and then gave her the proceeds." 33 Kan. at 398.

    In affirming the trial court's judgment in favor of the plaintiff, the court stated:

    "If the plaintiff was induced to part with his property through the fraud of the defendant, by false promises, elusive hopes, and deluding expectations, held out by her to him, that his condition, financial, social, and otherwise, would be bettered and improved thereby, it makes but little difference whether it was understood by the parties that the property should ever be reconveyed to him, or not. The fraud vitiates the whole transaction, and the parties should be placed back as near to their original condition as possible." 33 Kan. at 400.

    The Douthitt case turned on the issue of fraud but the opinion implies that a conveyance in contemplation of marriage can be conditional.

    Gerard v. Costin, 113 Kan. 617, 215 Pac. 1011 (1923), again involved a jilted suitor seeking return of land he had conveyed to the object of his affection. In reversing the trial court's entry of judgment in favor of the plaintiff, the court stated:

    "It would be a questionable doctrine to expand the rule of fiduciary relationships so as to declare that when a woman is wooed by an elderly suitor, and receives from him a conveyance of property but rejects his solicitations and offers of marriage, she has the burden of showing she did not take advantage of his age and situation and that the conveyance was voluntary and without constraint and that the donor was of sound mind and knew what he was about." 113 Kan. at 620.

    Gerard adds little to the resolution of the issue before us, but is included as it is one of the few Kansas cases involving gifts or conveyances by suitors.

    Bowes v. Sly, 96 Kan. 388, 152 Pac. 17 (1915), is a breach of contract to marry action and does not involve any gifts in contemplation in marriage. It is mentioned only as it was cited by Heather in support of her position and is one of the few Kansas cases arising from a broken engagement.

    While there is a paucity of Kansas law on gifts in contemplation of marriage in general, and engagement rings in particular, courts in many other states have wrestled with the issues arising therefrom. Most courts recognize that engagement rings occupy a rather unique niche in our society.

    One court characterized the engagement ring as follows:

    "'The ring is employed in rites of courtship and marriage in many cultures, primitive and sophisticated; in widely dispersed regions of the earth; persisting through the centuries, in fact millienia [sic]. In our culture, the ring is generally placed on one of the fingers, in others it may be attached to other positions of the anatomy, at intermediate points from the top of the head to the tip of the toes. It is a universal symbol of deep seated sexual and social ramifications, a seminal area of research for behavioral scientists. Is it any wonder that it presents such complicated problems for mere lawyers?'" (Correction indicator in original.) Brown v. Thomas, 127 Wis. 2d 318, 327 n.2, 379 N.W.2d 868 (Ct. App. 1985) (quoting Goldstein v. Rosenthal, 56 Misc. 2d 311, 311, 288 N.Y.S.2d 503 [1968]).

    By tradition and the mores of our society, an engagement ring is the symbol of the parties' mutual promises to marry. It is unlike any other gift given or exchanged by lovers. The single sentence "She returned his ring" illustrates this. These four words, standing alone, paint the picture of mutual promises to wed, a ring being given and received to symbolize these promises, and the intended bride reneging on her promise and so advising the would-be groom by returning the ring. No like picture is engendered by the phrase "She returned his bracelet." Nothing about the relationship of the parties or the circumstances surrounding the exchange can be implied from these four words.

    An extensive discussion of the topic can be found in Annot., Rights in Respect of Engagement and Courtship Presents When Marriage Does Not Ensue, 46 A.L.R.3d 578.

    In the absence of a contrary expression of intent, it is logical that engagement rings should be considered, by their very nature, conditional gifts given in contemplation of marriage. Once it is established the ring is an engagement ring, it is a conditional gift.

    Other courts have reached a similar conclusion. See Simonian v. Donoian, 96 Cal. App. 2d 259, 215 P.2d 119 (1950);White v. Finch, 3 Conn. Cir. Ct. 138, 209 A.2d 199 (1964); Gill v. Shively, 320 So. 2d 415 (Fla. Dist. App. 1975); Vann v. Vehrs, 260 Ill. App. 3d 648, 633 N.E.2d 102 (1994); Harris v. Davis, 139 Ill. App. 3d 1046, 487 N.E.2d 1204 (1986); Fierro v. Hoel, 465 N.W.2d 669 (Iowa App. 1990); Aronow v. Silver, 223 N.J. Super. 344, 538 A.2d 851 (1987); Mate v. Abrahams, 62 A.2d 754 (N.J. County Ct. 1948); Vigil v. Haber, 119 N.M. 9, 888 P.2d 455 (1994); Wion v. Henderson, 24 Ohio App. 3d 207, 494 N.E.2d 133 (1985); Lyle v. Durham, 16 Ohio App. 3d 1, 473 N.E. 2d 1216 (1984); Spinnell v. Quigley, 56 Wash. App. 799, 785 P.2d 1149 (1990); Brown v. Thomas, 127 Wis. 2d 318.

    Other types of property may be shown to be conditional gifts given in contemplation of marriage, but such a classification would require specific evidence of such intent as opposed to just showing the ring was an engagement ring given in contemplation of marriage. As was stated in Fierro v. Hoel, 465 N.W.2d at 671, of an engagement ring: "[T]here is no need to establish an express condition that marriage will ensue. A party meets the burden of establishing the conditional nature of the gift by proving by a preponderance of evidence that the gift was given in contemplation of marriage."

    In the action herein, the parties stipulated that the object in dispute is an engagement ring given in contemplation of marriage. We conclude the district court correctly held that it was a conditional gift.

    A conditional gift is one that is conditioned or qualified, and the title does not vest in the donee. See 38 Am. Jur. 2d, Gifts § 81. The majority states: "The engagement period is one where each party should be free to reexamine his or her commitment." Although that may not be the way some people view the engagement period, it has no bearing on the ownership of an engagement ring when an engagement is broken. The majority seems to intertwine the commitment to be engaged with the commitment to be married. The law does not ordinarily become involved with engagements; however, public policy mandates that the law be involved in the breakup of marriages. The commitment to be engaged is given at the time of the engagement, while the commitment to be married is given at the wedding ceremony.

    Justification for the fault-based rule was picturesquely stated in Pavlicic v. Vogtsberger, 390 Pa. 502, 507, 136 A.2d 127 (1957), as follows:

    "A gift given by a man to a woman on condition that she embark on the sea of matrimony with him is no different from a gift based on the condition that the donee sail on any other sea. If, after receiving the provisional gift, the donee refuses to leave the harbor,--if the anchor of contractual performance sticks in the sands of irresolution and procrastination--the gift must be restored to the donor."

    Mate v. Abraham, 62 A.2d at 754-55, applied the fault-based rule, stating:

    "On principle, an engagement ring is given, not alone as a symbol of the status of the two persons as engaged, the one to the other, but as a symbol or token of their pledge and agreement to marry. As such pledge or gift, the condition is implied that if both parties abandon the projected marriage, the sole cause of the gift, it should be returned. Similarly, if the woman, who has received the ring in token of her promise, unjustifiably breaks her promise, it should be returned.

    "When the converse situation occurs, and the giver of the ring, betokening his promise, violates his word, it would seem that a similar result should follow, i.e., he should lose, not gain, rights to the ring. In addition, had he not broken his promise, the marriage would follow, and the ring would become the wife's absolutely. The man could not then recover the ring. The only difference between that situation, and the facts at bar, is that the man has broken his promise. How, on principle, can the courts aid him, under such circumstances, to regain a ring which he could not regain, had he kept his promise? 'No man should take advantage of his own wrong.' Of course, were the breaking of the engagement to be justifiable, there would be no violation of the agreement legally, and a different result might follow." 62 A.2d at 754-55.

    We turn now to the no-fault line of cases. In Vigil v. Haber, 119 N.M. at 10-11, the court held that the engagement ring was a conditional gift dependent upon the parties' future marriage, that the question of fault in the breaking of the engagement was irrelevant, and that, therefore, once the engagement had been terminated, the ring should be returned to the donor. The Vigil court discussed Spinnell in reaching this result and declined to follow its rule. The court noted that, although the practice of determining possession of the engagement ring based upon fault is the majority rule, it preferred the modern trend toward no-fault. Likening a broken engagement to a broken marriage, the court noted that no-fault divorce is the modern approach to a broken marriage. Thus, the court believed, a no-fault approach to a broken engagement was equally appropriate. Following the lead of Iowa, New Jersey, New York, and Wisconsin, the court held that when the condition precedent of marriage fails, an engagement gift must be returned. 119 N.M. at 10-11.

    In Fierro v. Hoel, 465 N.W.2d at 671-72, rejecting "an older majority line of cases" which follow the general principle that the donor of the engagement ring can recover the gift only if the engagement is dissolved by agreement or if the engagement is unjustifiably broken by the donee, the court held that "[i]f the wedding is called off, for whatever reason, the gift is not capable of becoming a completed gift and must be returned to the donor."

    In Brown v. Thomas, 127 Wis. 2d at 328, acknowledging that "most jurisdictions allow recovery of conditional engagement gifts only if the party seeking recovery has not unjustifiably broken off the engagement," the court declined to join them. The court believed that the answer to the question of, Who's at fault, often becomes "lost in the murky depths of contradictory, acrimonious, and largely irrelevant testimony by disappointed couples, their relatives and friends." 127 Wis. 2d at 328. Applying the same public policy it found embodied within Wisconsin's no-fault divorce law, the court held that the only relevant inquiry in conditional engagement gift cases is whether the condition under which the gift was made has failed. 127 Wis. 2d at 329-30; see also Lyle v. Durham, 16 Ohio App. 3d 1, (adopting no-fault rule in the absence of an agreement between the parties to the contrary).

    Aronow v. Silver, 223 N.J. Super. 344. Although "[t]he majority rule in this country concerning the disposition of engagement rings is a fault rule: the party who unjustifiably breaks the engagement loses the ring" (223 N.J. Super. at 346), the Aronow court believed the majority rule to be "sexist and archaic," giving the following explanation:

    "The history is traced in 24 A.L.R.2d at 582-586 [superseded by 46 A.L.R.3d 578]. In ancient Rome the rule was fault. When the woman broke the engagement, however, she was required not only to return the ring, but also its value, as a penalty. No penalty attached when the breach was the man's. In England, women were oppressed by the rigidly stratified social order of the day. They worked as servants or, if not of the servant class, were dependent on their relatives. The fact that men were in short supply, marriage above one's station rare and travel difficult abbreviated betrothal prospects for women. Marriages were arranged. Women's lifetime choices were limited to a marriage or a nunnery. Spinsterhood was a centuries-long personal tragedy. Men, because it was a man's world, were much more likely than women to break engagements. When one did, he left behind a woman of tainted reputation and ruined prospects. The law, in a de minimis gesture, gave her the engagement ring, as a consolation prize. When the man was jilted, a seldom thing, justice required the ring's return to him. Thus, the rule of life was the rule of law--both saw women as inferiors.

    . . . .



    Laws from state to state will differ on this subject and you should seek the counsel of an attorney if you are wanting to keep the engagement ring. Court battles can be lengthy and costly and considerations if the ring was a family heirloom or held special sentimental value to the giver will be taken into consideration.

    I had a cousin that was engaged several times without the completion of a wedding ceremony. All of the engagement rings were kept by her without any questions or problems by her fiancee except one. He took her to court and not only won the ring but she had to pay for all of his attorney fees and court costs.

    An attorney would be better able to tell you if it is finacially in your benefit to keep the item in question and the implications of a court battle for possession of said item. If you have incurred financial costs connected to the impending wedding that you will not be able to recover, ie: wedding dress or deposits, you might consider a civil action of your own to recover the costs from your former fiancee.

    Good luck.

  • 1 decade ago

    It depends on who breaks up the engagement.

    Assuming the man gave the woman a ring, if the woman calls it off she must return the ring, by law. He can even take her to court to get it back, or get the money it was worth.

    If the man calls the engagement off, the woman is *legally* permitted to keep the ring as a gift, although it would really be in poor taste for her to do so.

    It doesn't matter which was unfaithful, but who called the engagement off and who bought and gave the ring.

    Source(s): Judge Judy and other simillar shows
  • 1 decade ago

    Yes, you should give it back and through in in his face, you are a better person than he is and the ring has a lot of memories for you.

    You deserve a ring from someone better than him, don't keep it unless you have real good reason for it.

  • 1 decade ago

    GIVE THE RING BACK. For your own good. By holding on to the ring, it's like you're holding on to him. So that you can achieve closure and as an act of forgiveness, let him have the ring. YOU DESERVE BETTER THAN THAT ANYWAY. And next time around, you'll not only get a nice ring, but you'll get a good man, too. Read "Total Forgiveness" by R.T. Kendall

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  • 1 decade ago

    depending on your laws of course - But the ring is like part of a contract the giving of the ring is one part and the acceptance of the ring is the second - with the unfaithfulness is breaking of the contract - therefore if he was unfaithful you can keep the ring because he broke the "contract"

    Source(s): I studied contract law (in Canada) that's why I said depending on where you are. Laws are different everywhere.
  • 1 decade ago

    It's your ring, sweetie. Have the diamond put into another setting or trade for something you want. He took the meaning out of it when he cheated. It's at least some consolation for being cheated on and it is worth money. I have heard of guys giving the same ring to more than one girl.

  • 1 decade ago

    No way its yours especially if he was unfaithful to you. Sell the ring and treat yourself to something really nice. After what you are going through you surely deserve this.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    no. the ring was a gift, not a loan - a promise, even... and the promise was broken. not so very long ago, breaking an engagement (i know YOU broke it, but the fiancee's conduct de facto broke it, and would have been recognised, so, at the period of which i speak) was grounds for a very serious lawsuit, one that would have cost the breaker (and even a SUGGESTION of marriage, at that time, was considered binding) at least as much as a ring (if they'd used rings, then, which i don't believe they did), and, most like, a great deal more, financially and socially. my sympathies.

  • Lydia
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    The reason doesn't matter, you have to give the engagement ring back. It wasn't a "gift" in the traditional sense, it's a symbol of the betrothal.

  • 1 decade ago

    HELL NO! It was given to you so it is yours. Quite frankly i wouldn't want to keep it, i would sell it and go on a holiday or day spa or something, but DO NOT return it to him, that would be like saying that it doesn't matter and he gets off scot free. Also i do not recommend that you sell it and buy something else with the money, whatever you buy will act as a reminder to you!

  • 1 decade ago

    I'm not totally sure but off hand I would say yes. Whether you do or not why would you want to keep such an important piece of jewelery to remind you of how he has hurt you? Would you really want to wear it as a constant reminder? Let it go with him and find someone that will love you the way everyone should be loved.

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