The Common Law
I can't marry you! who gets the ring if the engagement is called off?
For better or worse, some engaged couples start saying "I don't" well before they make it to an altar. This raises a very practical question: Who gets to keep the engagement ring if the wedding is called off? The answer depends on the specific facts of each case, with a particular focus on who is "at fault" for calling off the engagement.
Texas law applies the conditional-gift rule, which means that an engagement ring, by its very nature, is a conditional gift given in contemplation of marriage. The conditional gift rule as applied by Texas courts contains an element of fault. This means that Texas courts will look to which person is at fault for breaking the engagement.
From a practical standpoint, what all this means is that if a women accepts an engagement ring and sometime thereafter breaks the engagement for no justifying reason, the law requires her to return the ring to her former fiancé. In a recent opinion from the Austin Court of Appeals, this rule was also applied to a man. In that case, a man who became engaged and then called off the wedding because of the wife's "sexual hang ups" and "issues with men" was deemed to be at fault, and the woman was allowed to keep the engagement ring.
Keep in mind that the law addressing return of engagement rings varies greatly on a state-by-state basis. For example, many states do not consider "fault," reasoning that it's virtually impossible for a court to determine whether a particular breakup is justified and declining to penalize a person for ending a doomed relationship. Nevertheless, the law in Texas is clear the person at fault for the canceled engagement can lose their rights to the engagement ring.
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The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.