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Who Keeps the Engagement Ring if the Wedding is Called Off?

What happens to the engagement ring if someone calls off the wedding?

KELLY AND BETSYS RING PHOTO

Unfortunately, before some engaged couples can make it down the aisle to say “I do”, someone says “I don’t”. The issue of who gets to keep the engagement ring often surfaces during this heartbreaking time.

An engagement ring is a gift and the law requires three elements to constitute an irrevocable gift:

  1. Intent – The giver’s intent to give the item as a gift;
  2. Delivery – The giver’s actual giving of the gift to the receiver; and
  3. Acceptance – Affirmative acceptance of the gift by the receiver.

Usually, if the above three elements are met, a gift is considered irrevocable and the gift giver is not entitled to reclaim the item. 

However, the rules for engagement rings are often slightly different. In Texas, the courts apply the Conditional Gift Rule. A conditional gift is subject to / dependent on a specific condition and it CAN be revoked if the condition(s) attached to the gift are not fulfilled. Likewise, the conditional gift CANNOT be revoked if the condition(s) attached to the gift are fulfilled. In the case of the engagement ring, the condition would be the act of marriage, not simply accepting the ring and agreeing to marry.

Texas courts take it one step further and factor in who is “at fault” in calling off the engagement. “Texas courts have held that the rule operates to require that the ring be returned to the donor if the donee is at fault in terminating the engagement”. Curtis v. Anderson, 106 S.W.3d 251, 255 (Tex. Ct. App. – Austin 2003). So, if the receiver is at fault, then she must return the ring. But if the giver is at fault, then he does not get the ring back and the receiver is entitled to keep it.

The big question becomes, what does “at fault” mean in this situation? In Curtis v. Anderson, the Texas Court of Appeals in Austin held that the ring giver was at fault when he decided to end the engagement because his fiancée had “some sexual hang-ups” and “some previous general issues with men, and she also had a very volatile temper”. Id. at 252. In this case, the court ruled in favor of the receiver and stated that “Texas courts, including this Court, have applied the fault-based conditional-gift rule when a donee breaks the engagement. We believe the same rule should apply when the donor defaults. We hold that absent a written agreement a donor is not entitled to the return of an engagement ring if he terminates the engagement.” Id. at 256.

With that being said, an exception may apply in situations involving infidelity or fraud. In the case of infidelity, it would not be a defense for a cheating fiancé/fiancée to claim that the other party is “at fault” for breaking off the engagement when the cheating was discovered. A court may consider this to be a reasonable justification for calling off the wedding. 

Every case is unique and Texas courts analyze each individual case based on the specific facts and circumstances.

As mentioned above, couples have the option of entering into a written agreement regarding ownership of the engagement ring. Such an agreement must be in writing, signed by the person obliged by the agreement, and otherwise compliant with the statute of frauds found in Section 1.108 of the Texas Family Code, which prohibits enforcement of oral agreements in consideration of marriage. Texas courts have held that if a binding agreement between the parties exists, then the application of the Conditional Gift Rule is not appropriate.

 

But what happens if a couple is already married and is now getting a divorce in Texas? Do you have to give the engagement ring back then?

No. After the wedding, the condition of the conditional gift has been met and the engagement ring becomes a separate property gift to the receiver and it cannot be revoked. Therefore, during a divorce proceeding in Texas, the receiver does NOT have to give the ring back, regardless of who is at fault in the breakdown of the marriage. 

If you find yourself in a similar situation and are wondering whether you should hire an attorney, please do not hesitate to do so. These are complicated and delicate issues, and the sooner you speak to an attorney about your legal rights, the better you will be protected. The family law attorneys at McClure Law Group, PC would be glad to help you navigate through this process.  Please call 214-692-8200 or visit us at mcclure-lawgroup.com to learn more.