The wedding is cancelled: Do I have to give back the ring?

16 Jul 2019

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What is the law regarding returning an engagement ring?

Your fiancé calling off the wedding or, worse still, being jilted at the altar is every bride’s worst nightmare. Taking the difficult decision to back out yourself is no picnic either.

The guests have been told, the venue, the catering and the honeymoon have been cancelled. The dust has settled but do you have to give back the ring?

These days the average cost of an engagement ring is £1080 but with received wisdom being that the spend should be close to three month’s salary, there will be many who splash out even more.

Lisa Pepper, London divorce solicitor at Osbornes Law is often asked by clients whether they are obliged to return the ring after a break-up.

Lisa says, “The question of whether you are legally entitled to keep your engagement ring after a break-up is dependent upon whether it can be proved that you were expected to give it back if the marriage did not end up taking place.

“Expecting a bride who gets cold feet to hand back the ring seems fairly reasonable, demanding a jilted bride gives the ring back seems somewhat unjust. The law, however, does not make a distinction between the two.”

Do you legally have to give back an engagement ring?

The law states that an engagement ring is presumed to be an absolute gift to the receiver unless it can be proved that the ring was given on the condition, express or implied, that it would be returned if the wedding was cancelled.

In practice, this situation is most likely to arise when the engagement ring is a family heirloom. Lisa explains, “If the ring has been passed down through generations of the groom’s family, provided he can prove that then the ring would have to be returned. The same rules apply to any gifts exchanged between engaged couples in the run up to the wedding.”

After marriage, different rules apply. Jewellery can be a battleground in divorce proceedings, especially if the value is significant in comparison to the overall assets set to be divided up.

Lisa says, “Generally unless it can be demonstrated that jewellery was expressly intended to be returned in the event of divorce, a woman’s jewellery is hers to keep. If there are sentimental items or family heirlooms that one spouse wishes to keep in the event of a relationship breakdown, it’s recommended these are covered by a pre-nuptial agreement.”

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