Beyond Bravo

What Exactly Are the Ring Rules When You End An Engagement?

If you don't make it down the aisle, the laws are strict. 

While we don’t know exactly who called off the Lady Gaga/Taylor Kinney engagement, and things may work out for the two according to Gaga, so she will probably keep her engagement ring

But what do people normally do with the ring when an engagement ends? One top family lawyer says he deals with who gets the diamond all the time—and that there are laws that determine exactly go gets the jewelry.

“The rules of the ring are…if you are engaged and split up, it depends on who does the breaking up,” explains Peter Walzer, partner of Los Angeles based law firm Walzer Melcher. “For example, in California, for property like a ring, if you assume the marriage will take place and the person you gave the ring to says ‘the wedding is off’ you can recover the ring.”

If the breakup is mutual, you are also entitled to the ring, Peter says, but if the ring giver calls it off “you don’t get the ring back.”

If the ring recipient does the breaking up, yet refuses to return the ring, the ring giver can sue for it back.

“Then it will be decided by a judge or jury if you can recover the property, but you don’t see a lot of this,” Peter says. “Usually we say is it really worth it?”

One client Peter recently worked with was a woman whose husband had cheated on her and made up for it with a $75,000 diamond ring she nicknamed “the rock.” But she did not realize that in California if someone gives you a gift “over a reasonable value,” like a car or an expensive piece of jewelry, they must put in writing and sign that it is in fact a gift.

“So he demanded the ring back and during the marriage he gave it to her,” he says. “In California gifts are not gifts unless they’re in writing, not many people know that.

Which is why Peter is a successful lawyer. 

“I drove her to court and she was in tears, she had to give it back according to the judge,” he says. 

Some more rules of the ring. 

Peter says if an engagement ring is given on a holiday or birthday before the marriage it is considered a gift. If the gifter wants it back, a judge would decide on the case. 

If you get an engagement ring and follow through with the marriage—even if you later divorce—the ring is yours.

“You fulfilled the promise of getting married,” Peter says. “So it’s yours.”

And most of the fighting he sees over rings are when they are a family heirloom. 

“Women generally don’t give it back, and often it’s the grandmother’s ring if it’s the guy, which leads to endless squabbling.”

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