What happens to the ring when the Valentine’s Day romance dies out?

Valentine’s Day is coming up: a day when every restaurant is fully booked with tables for two, the price of red roses skyrockets, and many couples end the day engaged to be married. In our latest blog post, Lisa Brown, Partner of our Divorce and Finance team discusses what happens to the engagement ring if things don’t work out?

Many anthropologists consider the giving of a ring it to be a tradition dating back to the ancient Egyptians, who believed circles were symbols of eternity. Wedded couples would exchange ring made from braided reeds which were worn on the left-hand ring finger. It was believed that this finger was the only finger with a vein that led directly to the heart, the Vena amoris. As romantic as that sounds, the reality is, no matter how much we want to believe that decorating our veins with precious metals, there is no answer to eternal romance.

If one half of an engaged couple calls off the wedding, what happens to the engagement ring?

Not every engagement leads to a wedding, and even for those who do get married, there may be a divorce down the line. As divorce lawyers, it’s not unusual for the soon-to-be-ex-couple to argue about who keeps the engagement ring, particularly if the ring was expensive.

One half of the couple will put forward the argument that they bought it, so they own it. The other half of the couple, naturally, will advance the argument that the ring was given to them as a gift, so they can claim rightful ownership.

What does the law say about engagement rings?

The Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970 states:

“The gift of an engagement ring shall be presumed to be an absolute gift; this presumption may be rebutted by proving that the ring was given on the condition, express or implied, that it should be returned if the marriage did not take place for any reason.”

This means that unless there was an agreement to return the engagement ring if the wedding was cancelled, then the recipient is under no obligation to return the ring.

What if the engagement ring is a family heirloom?

If the engagement ring is a family heirloom, perhaps passed down through the family for many generations – and the recipient was made aware of this at the time – then it may be easier to succeed in an argument that the ring should be returned if the wedding is called off. However, no matter how sentimental the ring may be, if there has been no agreement made that the ring must be returned to the proposer, the Act still stands.

How do you ensure that you keep the ring if things don’t work out?

Many couples now enter into a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. If the parties feel really strongly about it, provision for the fate of the engagement ring can be included in the agreement as a specific term should the couple divorce. Otherwise, the same general rule applies: the engagement ring is an absolute gift (and therefore not returnable) unless there was a condition made about the ring being returned when it was given.

So, if you are planning to ask your loved one to marry you this Valentine’s Day, maybe consider the future of the ring. We know that thoughts of break-ups and divorces should be the last thing on your mind, but If the ring has a lot of sentimental value, it might be worth protecting it in some way.