Engagement Rings and the Law

Who Owns the Ring When the Engagement Ends?

Today, divorce and multiple marriages are more common than ever before in Monmouth County, New Jersey. Even more common however is marital engagements that are “broken off” before the wedding ceremony ever occurs. Exact numbers and percentages of engagements that are cancelled are difficult to calculate as newly engaged couples do not file any paperwork with the State or Local Government. However, divorce lawyers and statisticians speculate that it is far higher.

A typical engagement is initiated by the giving of a diamond ring from a man to his future wife-to-be. When the engagement is broken off many wonder what becomes of the engagement ring. In many jurisdictions the court’s follow the so called “fault” rule which posits that the ring’s ownership is awarded to the party who did not unjustifiably break the engagement. This law is not followed in New Jersey, which instead uses the “conditional gift” theory, as articulated in Albanese v. Indelicato, 25 N.J. Misc. 144 (1947).

New Jersey Law Does Not Follow the Fault Rule

The court in Aronow v. Silver, 223 N.J. Super 344 (1987) provided further insight into New Jersey law governing engagement rings and the “conditional gift theory.” In this case the engagement period was a turbulent one in which the future wife broke off the engagement on several occasions and returned the ring to the husband multiple times. Each party then blamed the other for the final break-up and claimed ownership of the ring, a condominium purchases in contemplation of marriage, and stock. Judge Haines found the “fault rule” of other States to be discriminatory and instead relied on the “conditional gift” theory. Under this law, the ring is returned to the intended husband on the basis that it was a gift conditioned upon the happening of the marriage. This was a condition implied by the law due to the symbolic nature of the ring that is regardless of fault. Therefore, New Jersey law is that if the engagement is broken the ring should be returned to the would be husband. It does not matter whether the engagement was broken off for the best reasons in the world. The important thing is that the gift was conditional and the condition was not fulfilled.

Villani & DeLuca – Ocean and Monmouth County Family Law

Partner, Vincent C. DeLuca is one of the founding members of the Jersey Shore Collaborative Law Group. He has been instrumental in the development of collaborative law throughout the State of New Jersey. Should you have any questions about the collaborative divorce process, please contact Vincent C. DeLuca to schedule your free initial consultation. Mr. DeLuca has been certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Attorney. Please call today to schedule your consultation at 732-965-3350.

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