Our Pittsburgh Family Lawyers are often asked "what happens to an engagement ring if a wedding is called off?" The answer varies depending on what state you live in. It is a question of whether the court applies an analysis of who is at fault for the cancellation of the engagement
In Pennsylvania, where we have no-fault divorce, we have no-fault engagement ring return. In 1999, in the case of Lindh v. Surman, 742 A.2d 643 (Pa. 1999),the Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined that an engagement ring is considered to be a conditional gift, the receipt of which is conditioned upon the marriage occurring. Therefore, if the marriage does not occur, then the person who initially gave the engagement ring to the other party, has the right to reclaim the engagement ring. The important factor in Pennsylvania's rule on this matter is that because the controlling law is based on no-fault return of the ring, the donor will have the right to reclaim the ring regardless of who broke up the engagement. The rationale behind this is to prevent the court from having to involve itself in the minute details of the engagement for the purpose of assigning fault.
Ultimately, fault was removed from the equation in Pennsylvania, and the ring has to be returned regardless of fault if the marriage does not occur. However, once the parties become married, the required condition will have been satisfied and the engagement ring becomes a gift between spouses, which means that the ring becomes marital property to which both parties have a joint claim of ownership (Unless there is a valid prenuptial agreement between the parties designating ownership of the ring).
Many other states apply a fault-principle in regards to this issue. This means that some other states' courts will consider who is at fault in breaking up an engagement and upon making a determination of who is it fault, the court may award the ring to the party not at fault. If the ring donor (the person offering the ring for engagement) is at fault for ending the engagement, they lose their right to reclaim the ring. Conversely, if the party receiving the ring is at fault for ending the engagement, the gift-giver has a right to reclaim the ring.
If you have questions about engagement rings, gifts in contemplation of marriage, or prenuptial agreements, talk to our Pennsylvania Family Lawyers today!