I Don’t: What happens to the engagement ring when the engagement is broken off?

“Will you marry me?” Once that special question is popped, generally it is followed up with that beautiful, but expensive diamond ring placed on her finger. So what happens to the ring when the wedding doesn’t happen?

Generally, once a gift is made in California it cannot be revoked. However, Civil Code § 1590 provides a specific rule for the gift of an engagement ring.

What happens if the one who received the ring calls the engagement off or the marriage is given up by mutual consent?
Civil Code § 1590 states, “Where either party to a contemplated marriage in this State makes a gift of money or property to the other on the basis or assumption that the marriage will take place, in the event that the donee refuses to enter into the marriage as contemplated or that it is given up by mutual consent, the donor may recover such gift or such part of its value as may, under all of the circumstances of the case, be found by a court or jury to be just.” Here, the donor is the person giving the engagement ring, and the donee is the person receiving the engagement ring.

Thus, where the person receiving the engagement ring refuses to marry or where the marriage is given up by mutual consent, the person giving the ring ordinarily will get to keep the ring.

Even if during a quarrel, the donor makes a statement indicating that the gift may be kept by the donee, the donor is not precluded from recovering the ring under Civil Code § 1590.

What happens if the one who gave the ring calls the engagement off?

On the other hand, the donee of an engagement gift is entitled to retain the gift when the marriage contract is breached by the donor without any fault of the donee.

Independently of this statute, the donor of a gift resting on anticipated marriage may recover it under general principles of fraud where the donee willfully misled the donor to defeat the donative purpose.

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So in layman’s terms, if you propose to your bride/groom to be, the only way to recover an engagement ring is if the bride/groom to be calls off the engagement, the two of you decide by mutual consent to end the engagement, or you can prove your bride/groom to be induced you to propose through fraud. (e.g. your future bride/groom was having an affair at the time you were engaged or was only seeking citizenship via the marriage).

These cases are very fact specific, so it is important that you speak with a qualified family law attorney to discuss your rights.’

Feel free to contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding gifts made in contemplation of marriage. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.


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