Broken engagement: Who gets the ring?

Valentine’s Day celebrations are set to create a surge in marriage proposals. However, because love is in the air and gifts of grandeur are posted all over social media feeds, the most romantic time of the year can also force couples to confront their relationship woes and consider whether to call it quits. Statistics show a break-up frenzy takes place in the weeks that follow Valentine’s Day.

A broken engagement can be extremely painful and the question of what happens to the ring can cause additional stress. Generally, both parties will feel that they, morally, have the right to the ring, whether it is because they paid for it or because their partner caused the relationship to break down.

It is acknowledged etiquette that if the recipient of the ring gets cold feet, it should be returned, no matter how extravagant or modest the jewellery is. If the person who made the proposal calls it off, he or she may feel morally obliged to let the other keep the ring.

In UK law the giving of an engagement ring is presumed to be a gift so it is assumed the person who receives it should keep it.

This presumption can be rebutted by proving that the gift was given as a condition in expectation that a future event or action will take place. If the marriage doesn’t take place the gift should therefore be returned. Unless some form of agreement has been made prior to the proposal, which can obviously be seen as very unromantic and takes away the element of surprise, legally the recipient is under no obligation to return the ring.

Rights to the ring get even more complex when it is a family heirloom or has significant value. Can you imagine the implications of being presented with the diamond-encrusted sapphire the Duchess of Cambridge was given and then breaking off the engagement?

Economic factors can also cause further confusion. Many men and women wishing to propose select a finance option with a brand of jewellers or use a credit card to purchase an engagement ring. They could still be liable for paying off the purchase long after the engagement has been broken and this can lead to nasty disputes.

It is possible to ask the court to adjudicate on the issue if you are not able to agree, although litigation should always be the last resort.

Speak to one of our experts for advice on any separation or divorce topic. Contact Karen Reid on 01254 272640 or email