Who Gets the Engagement Ring When Things Go Wrong?

September 3, 2023
Louis Sternberg

Who Keeps the Engagement Ring in New York?

Ah, love is in the air! You’ve found your soulmate, and after careful consideration, you’ve decided to take the next step and propose. But as the excitement of your impending engagement settles in, a rather serious question arises: who gets to keep the engagement ring if things don’t go as planned? In those instances, it’s commonly asked “Can a man ask for an engagement ring back?” If you’re in New York, the answer might not be as straightforward as you think. The intricacies of the “who keeps the engagement ring” dilemma in the state of New York can be quite complicated.

An engagement ring is typically considered a gift given in anticipation of marriage, commonly phrased as a gift in contemplation of marriage.  In most cases, if the engagement leads to marriage, the ring remains a symbol of the couple’s commitment and love. However, if the engagement is called off, the question of whether the ring should be returned to the giver can become a legal matter.

Engagement Ring – Gift vs. Conditional Gift

New York follows a legal principle known as the “conditional gift” rule when it comes to engagement rings. This means that the outcome of the engagement – whether it results in marriage or not – plays a crucial role in determining the ownership of the ring.

1. The Engagement Leads to Marriage:

In cases where the engagement culminates in marriage, the engagement ring is generally considered an irrevocable gift. This means that the recipient of the ring is entitled to keep it, regardless of the marriage’s future status.  The gift is therefore the separate property of the recipient spouse and is not subject to equitable distribution in the context of a divorce action.

2. The Engagement is Called Off:

If the engagement is called off, the situation becomes more complex. The engagement ring is viewed as a conditional gift in New York. This means that the giver (the person who proposed) can legally request the return of the engagement ring if the marriage doesn’t take place.  Civil Rights Law § 80-b provides that an individual may recover the ring or other gifts “where the sole motivation for the transfer was a contemplated marriage which never occurred.”  Additionally, that statute allows the Court to grant the Plaintiff a money judgment instead of ordering the ring to be returned.

Navigating the sensitive issue of who keeps the engagement ring can be emotionally charged, especially when it involves legal considerations. In New York, the “conditional gift” rule places importance on the outcome of the engagement in determining the ring’s ownership. If the engagement leads to marriage, the ring is the separate property of the recipient spouse.  In the event of a divorce, that engagement ring, as separate property, will remain the property of the recipient. However, if the engagement is called off, the gift-giving party may demand return of the ring or money judgment for the value of the ring.

Engagement Ring After a Break Up

As you embark on this beautiful journey of love and commitment, remember that communication and understanding between partners are key. Regardless of the legalities, open conversations about expectations can help ensure a smoother process in case difficult decisions need to be made so that, hopefully, there never needs to be any discussion regarding who keeps an engagement ring after a break up.