The Fate of the Engagement Ring When the Couple Says “I Don’t”

A proposal for marriage is usually a time to celebrate. Along with this joyous occasion, there is usually a gift provided from one spouse to another, specifically an engagement ring. However joyous an engagement may be, engagements can also be controversial, especially if a break up ensues, and the couple is left wondering who gets to keep the ring?

If you and your partner are considering getting married and would like to prepare a prenuptial agreement, it is important to speak with an experienced family law attorney.

Florida’s Abolishment of the Heart Balm Statutes

At the outset, Florida has ruled that any tort claims involving alienation of affections, seduction, or breach of contract to marry have been abolished. In other words, the Florida legislature has ruled that if you have a jilted heart from the bad acts of a lover, you cannot bring an action against him or her citing the above as the cause of action. This is because it is against public policy to litigate the hearts of citizens, and would be impossible to force action on the defendant to marry the plaintiff or to monetize the damages of a broken heart. We call these causes of action the “heart balm” actions, and they are not available in Florida or the majority of states.

The Controversy Surrounding Engagement Rings

However, engagement rings raise a different controversy due to their inherent monetary value and their sentimental value, as well. According to a case that was adjudicated in 1975, it found that ordinarily engagement rings are considered conditional gifts; the engagement ring was presented to the individual under the condition that he or she promised to marry the gifter. The court further held that if the relationship breaks up before the marriage has been officiated, the owner of the ring depends on who broke up the relationship. If the receiver of the engagement ring breaks up the relationship before saying “I Do,”,he or she forfeits the gift and must give the engagement ring back to the original gifter. If the couple agrees to mutually break up, then the gifter is the owner of the engagement ring. However, though the court was silent on this point, if the gifter breaks up the relationship than the receiver of the gift maintains ownership of the engagement ring.

Circumstances May Affect the Ownership of the Engagement Ring

Like many things in family law, this is not a fast and strictly held rule. There could be circumstances, factors, and elements that could tip the balance for the gifter to maintain ownership of the engagement ring, if he or she is the one to break up the relationship. For example, if the receiver of the gift was having an affair or had acted objectively poorly in the relationship, these could be determinations that the fault of the break up was on the receiver of the gift and not the gifter, even though the gifter ultimately ended the relationship.

and How to Protect the Family Heirloom

The courts have been relatively silent on family heirlooms that are given as engagement rings, but it has been assumed that the fate of the heirloom engagement ring may be no different than a store-bought ring. A prenuptial agreement may be one way to protect an heirloom from passing into the receiver of the ring’s estate by outlining that the heirloom stays with the gifter’s family, regardless of the break up of the marriage. However, this would only protect the heirloom once the couple has already married and not before.

Please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.