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My engagement has broken down… Who gets to keep the ring?

Close up of happy woman and man with engagement ring in gift box over lights background

As Christmas approaches, many people may be getting ready to propose to their loved one and start the planning of their nuptials ready for the New Year. But sometimes an engagement does not always work out, which poses the question – who gets to keep the engagement ring?

Section 3(2) of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970 sets out the law on this matter and it is quite straightforward – an engagement ring is presumed to be an absolute gift, and therefore, belongs to the person who receives it. However, this presumption can be rebutted by evidence showing that the ring was given on the condition (either express or implied) that it should be returned if the marriage does not take place. In this case, the recipient would be under no obligation to return the engagement ring.

Practical example: if the engagement ring is of a particular sentimental value, or is a family heirloom and intended to be passed down through the generations, it is more likely that a court would be persuaded that there was an implied condition that the engagement ring would be given back if the engagement broke down.

How can you protect ownership of assets, including an engagement ring?

Ownership of assets, including an engagement ring, can be clarified in a pre-nuptial agreement between intended spouses. However, it should be noted that although a pre-nuptial agreement is a formal contract between two people prior to marriage or civil partnership, they are not formally binding in England and Wales. The enforceability of a pre-nuptial agreement will depend on various factors – see blog A quick guide to pre-martial agreements for more information on this.

It is recommended that if intended spouses want to be explicit as to who the engagement ring should be returned to, in the event of engagement/relationship breakdown, then a written agreement should be drafted and signed.