Who Gets to Keep the Ring When the Big Day is Cancelled?

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and the prospect of experiencing the ultimate day of romance will spur many to ‘pop the question’. Although everyone wishes for a fairy tale ending, not all wishes come true, and engagements do not always lead to a ‘big day’.

Along with heartbreak and disappointment, there are several important issues that couples need to consider. For instance, if your fiancée breaks off the engagement, who gets to keep the ring?

Jade Harrison, Legal Advisor at DAS clarifies the legal position surrounding ownership of what is often an expensive statement of love…

If my fiancé breaks off our engagement; can I legally ask for the ring to be returned?
In broad terms, an engagement ring is given as an ‘absolute gift’ and, as such, belongs to the person to whom it was given. The law takes no account of which partner calls off the engagement, so regardless of who broke off the relationship, the ring does not have to be given back.

What if it was specified that it should be returned if the marriage does not happen?
This is the one important exception. If the ring is given on the condition, stated or implied, that it should be returned if the marriage does not go ahead, the ring would have to be given back. However in practical terms, unless you’ve taken the romantic step of getting that in writing, then it may not be as simple as that.

Does it make a difference if the ring is a family heirloom?
If the ring is a treasured family heirloom, a court would be more likely to assume that there was an implied intention that the ring would be returned if the couple split up. Although, once again, proving that it should be considered as such could be tricky.

Would a pre-nuptial agreement help clarify the ownership of a ring?
Ownership of the ring could be specified in a pre-nuptial agreement drawn up between the couple. However, ‘pre-nups’, as they are often called, are not strictly legally binding in the UK however, they will be taken into consideration in divorce proceedings if the ‘pre-nup’ is deemed to meet certain qualifying criteria. If either of the couple wanted to be certain that the ring would be returned should the marriage be called off, they would need to draft a written agreement specifically to this effect for their intended to sign.

In general, like many areas of English law, the ownership of engagement rings seems simple on the face of it, but there are one or two catches, and it is very important that couples understand the legal position on ownership to avoid making a break-up more difficult. Thankfully, as a nation we are still fairly romantic and honourable which can help resolve these matters privately and avoid creating a legal battle!

Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created.


Media Contacts:
FWD Consulting: 020 7623 2368

Notes to Editors:
DAS UK Group: www.das.co.uk

The DAS UK Group comprises an insurance company (DAS Legal Expenses Insurance Company Ltd), a law firm (DAS Law), and an after the event legal expenses division.

DAS UK introduced legal expenses insurance (LEI) in 1975, protecting individuals and businesses against the unforeseen costs involved in a legal dispute. In 2021 we wrote over seven million policies.

The company offers a range of insurance and assistance add-on products suitable for landlords, homeowners, motorists, groups and business owners, while its after the event legal expenses insurance division offers a civil litigation, insolvency, clinical negligence and personal injury product. In 2013, DAS also acquired its own law firm – DAS Law – enabling it to leverage the firm’s expertise to provide its customers with access to legal advice and representation.

DAS UK is part of the ERGO Group, one of Europe’s largest insurance groups (the majority shareholder in ERGO is Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurers).

DAS UK Group Twitter: https://twitter.com/DASLegalUK
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DAS Law LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/das-law/