It has been estimated that a man spends an average of three months’ salary to purchase the perfect engagement ring. What happens when the magical spell is broken and the engagement is off?
Q: My fiancé recently ended our engagement and I spent $3,000 on an engagement ring. She refuses to give the ring back. Am I entitled to the ring according to the law?
A: Under Ohio law, unless there is an agreement to the contrary, the engagement ring is considered a conditional gift, given in contemplation of marriage. When, as in your case, the implied condition of the marriage is not met, then you are entitled to recover the ring or its value.
Q: What happens if I’m the one who bought the ring, but I’m also the one who broke the engagement? Am I still entitled to get the engagement ring back?
A: In Ohio, the majority view is that the engagement ring must be returned to you regardless of who ended the engagement and for what reason. However, at least one court in Ohio has ruled that, unless there is an agreement to the contrary, an engagement ring need not be returned if the engagement has been unjustifiably broken. While this ruling has been criticized by other courts, it has not been overruled. Therefore, it all depends on what view your court would decide to follow.
Q: After our engagement ended, I demanded that my ex- fiancé give the ring back, but she tells me that she was so distraught after I ended our engagement that she threw the ring into the river. Am I entitled to recover anything? If I’m entitled to the value of the ring, does that mean I can get back the amount I paid for it?
A: You are entitled to recover the value of the ring, but you must be able to offer proof of its actual value. The value of the ring is not necessarily the amount that you paid for it. If you cannot get your hands on the ring, then you should ask the jeweler from whom you bought the ring for an appraised value. You could also ask your insurance company to verify the value if you insured the ring. Unfortunately, the mark-up on many engagement rings may be significant, so the value may be less than what you paid for it. The key is to find a recent appraisal. You will need to use that as a basis for your demand for recovery.
Q: My fiancé recently ended our engagement. In addition to an engagement ring, I had showered her with all sorts of other gifts such as a horse and a horse trailer. Does she have to return those gifts to me as well?
A: Unless these gifts were expressly conditioned on the subsequent marriage, general gift law applies, and these gifts are treated as irrevocable inter vivos gifts. In other words, you are not entitled to get them back.
Q: How is a gift of a horse different from a gift of an engagement ring?
A: Ohio law provides that an engagement ring has a symbolic meaning of a couple’s promise to marry that other types of gifts do not have. This is why engagement rings are treated differently under the law.
Law You Can Use is a weekly consumer legal information column provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. This article was prepared by Wendi M. Fowler, currently serving as a trust officer with First-Knox National Bank, and updated by Kristin A. Schultz, an attorney with the Mount Vernon law firm, Zelkowitz, Barry and Cullers, Ltd.