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SHOULD YOU GIVE THE RING BACK?

May 26 2014

When the engagement is called off, should the engagement ring be returned to the giver?

Most readers will remember the media coverage of a scene outside a Vancouver courthouse in September of 2013, when a yelling match occurred between two ex-fiancés over whether she should return the $16,000 engagement ring he had given her after just three weeks of dating.

What the courts have to consider is, is the giving of an engagement ring a gift, which cannot be taken back, or is the giving of an engagement ring part of the contract to marry, which, if the marriage does not occur, the contract is void, and the ring must be returned.

Courts in British Columbia have looked at this problem several times, most recently in court decisions made in 2004 and 2007. In 2007, the court heard the case of Mr. Zimmerman and Ms. Lazare.  In December of 2004 Mr. Zimmerman and Ms. Lazare struck up a courtship, and were engaged on New Years’ Eve, 2004. Mr. Zimmerman purchased an engagement ring at a cost of over $49,000 and presented it to Ms. Lazare, and she accepted it, as a confirmation of their engagement.

After making arrangements to move to Vancouver to live with Ms. Lazare, Mr. Zimmerman was visiting Vancouver in October of 2005 when an altercation occurred between the couple.  Ms. Lazare left the home for the night, and upon returning in the morning, told Mr. Zimmerman that their engagement was off.  Mr. Zimmerman left Vancouver, and returned to his home in the United States.

The court determined that an engagement ring is part of the promise to marry; a contract between the couple.  If the contract is not completed, and the marriage does not happen, then the ring must be returned to the giver.   It does not matter who called off the marriage, or why the marriage did not happen.

A different answer results if the couple are married, and then later separate.   Once the marriage occurs, the contract is completed, and the ring becomes a permanent gift.  That ring does not become “family property” like other possessions do.  If the couple later separates, the ring remains with the person it was given to, and is not subject to division of property like other items the couple owns.

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