Who gets the ring when an engagement ends?

Family Law 23/09/2018 by Natasha Smith

The shine and sparkle from the engagement is gone, but the ring is here to stay. Who gets the ring when an engagement ends?

While the ring is sometimes the most expensive item to purchase for a wedding, it usually only holds sentimental value in property settlements.

So, who gets the ring?? Well it depends.

In the days of old, when knights were bold, the ring was seen as a gift in contemplation of marriage; if the marriage didn’t happen it was returned.

In 2007 in the case of Papathanasopoulos v Vacopoulas the joyous couple exchanged rings in front of their friends and family at the engagement party. Ten days later the bride-to-be called off the wedding. The evidence was that the bride-to-be tried to return the ring but was told to keep it. So, chucking it in a box with other sentimental items from the relationship it was put away, until she decided to free herself from the constraints of the past and threw the whole box away, ring and all. On finding out that bride-to-be had thrown the ring away, the groom commenced proceedings in the Local Court for the return of the ring or compensation.

Magistrate George found that the jilted groom had a right to compensation and ordered payment of compensation from the bride-to-be to the groom. She, of course appealed. It was a gift, she argued, and hers to throw into the volcanic fire of Mordor if she chose.  The Supreme Court said no, it was not a gift in absolute and merely an attempt by the groom to preserve the relationship. The bride-to-be was again ordered to pay (plus legal costs).

Thus, if the woman calls it off, return it; if the man calls it off (without legal justification) she can keep it if she wants; if it’s a mutual decision then each shall return all gifts (including the ring). Complicated? You bet.

That was then…This is now. November last year (2017) saw a notable change in the status of the engagement ring. In Toh v Su, Magistrate Brender cast Papathanaspoulos aside (as did Vacopoulos) and decided that the engagement ring is an unconditional gift. If the Family Law Act is not concerned with questions of fault, “why would the law be any further concerned about who “broke off” the engagement? That was a question closely related to the concert of fault and breach of promise. It would give rise to undesirable analysis of how and why a planned marriage is called off.”[1] His Honour further noted that “a gift of an engagement ring should be now seen, like other gifts, as given absolutely (subject of course to contrary intention.) Many gifts are given in happy times and with optimism. Sometimes that optimism is borne out, sometimes it isn’t.”[2] His Honour further noted that any conditional aspect (such as the promise to marry) should arise from words or conduct.

His Honour rightly pointed out that the Family Law Act now contemplates property agreements prior to marriage, giving parties an opportunity to bargain about these matters.

If you are concerned that you are about to spend up on some pretty rocks, (that you might want back) come and see our team for the answers to your property questions before you pop the big question.

[1] Toh v Su [2017] NSWLC 10 at 20

[2] At 22.

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