Who Pays When the Wedding is Called Off?

June 7, 2012

In New York, a man is suing his ex-fiancé for contributions made in contemplation of their upcoming nuptials. Specifically, Steven Silverstein is asking for $19,000, which she allegedly withdrew from their joint bank account prior to the most recent split, $28,000 in rent to represent her ½ contribution for the apartment they shared, and $27,000 he spent in nonrefundable deposits a wedding photographer, hotel rental, videographer, and furniture rentals. The couple was engaged for two years during which Kendra Platt-Lee broke off the pending wedding twice.

Platt-Lee has since moved to San Diego and is pursuing a career in marketing. According to her lawyer, Platt-Lee denies all allegations and even plans to file a countersuit against Silverstein for failure to return her personal belongings. It is her position that relationship was resolved when she returned the $32,000 engagement ring he had given to her. The question for the Manhattan Supreme Court is whether the cash, the rent, and the deposits were all gifts from Silverstein to Platt-Lee or whether he has a right to reimbursement now that she has cancelled the wedding.

According to California Law, Platt-Lee followed the correct protocol in returning her lavish engagement ring. An engagement ring is typically considered a gift, however, if the couple separates prior to the wedding, the circumstances of this break-up may determine the true owner of the ring. Under California Civil Code section 1590, the "giver" of the engagement ring, here Silverstein, is entitled to the ring or the value of the ring if the "receiver", here Platt-Lee, later refuses to enter into the marriage. In addition, the "giver" is also entitled to return of the ring if both parties agree to call off the pending nuptials. However, although the law is not crystal clear, generally, if the "giver" refuses to enter into the marriage, he or she is not entitled to return of the gift given in contemplation of that marriage. These are general principles of law and any evidence of fraud may still affect the outcome of a particular case.

Calling off a wedding can be an emotional experience for both parties but they still may be wondering who is still responsible for the presently incurred costs. Engagement is not a legal contract and does not confer upon the parties the same rights as a marriage. If a party has signed a contract with a vendor, he or she may still be required to pay that vendor even if the wedding is called off. However, if both parties have signed the contract, they will both be liable to the vendor. Under general property division laws in California, any property acquired individually by a party is his or her separate property before the date of marriage. This same principle is true regarding any debts acquired prior to marriage. It is important to consider the individual agreements made between the parties and what arrangement was made regarding wedding expenses. Principles of contract law may apply to these situations especially if the parties entered into a written agreement or premarital agreement that contained a relevant clause.

In order to protect against unforeseen circumstances such as a wedding cancellation or postponement, many soon-to-be spouses are getting wedding insurance. Wedding insurance can cover no-show vendors, ruined photography, stolen wedding gifts, and various other mishaps.

Please contact us if you would like to know your rights upon marriage. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.