If you and your fiancé are engagement and one of you calls off the wedding, who is the rightful owner of the engagement ring? The answer varies from State to State. In California, the you would have to file an action in civil court to get the engagement ring returned. There are many ways to argue who should get the ring back.
Gift vs Conditional Gift
Gift is defined as property of recipient, even if the donee and recipient break up. Most gifts are not conditioned with any promises or requirements attached. The recipient of the engagement ring could argue that the engagement ring was a “gift” to her. Therefore, since her fiancé gave her the ring as a gift, he should not get it back. However, this argument is not very strong as engagement rings are conditional gifts contemplated upon marriage.
For instance in the scenario of conditional gifts, the donee who gifts his fiancé with an engagement ring could argue that the engagement ring was conditioned upon marriage. Since the wedding was called off, the engagement ring should rightfully be returned to the person who purchased it.
Civil Code Section 1590 states in pertinent part:
“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.”
Thus, in the State of California and accordance with Civil Code Section 1590, if one person calls off the wedding, the ring must be returned to the person who proposed with the ring. In contrast, if both people cancel the wedding, the engagement ring must be returned to the person who purchased the ring. However, pursuant to Simonian v. Donoian (1950) 96 Cal.App.2d 259, in said case, if the person who proposed with the engagement ring calls off the wedding, the recipient is entitled to keep the ring.
The law is silent in the scenario where if the recipient of the ring calls of the wedding because the donor cheated on that person or attempted to defraud the person.
If you want to avoid uncertainty as to who should keep the engagement ring in the event the wedding is cancelled or in the event you do get married but divorce later, it is highly recommended that you have a strong Prenuptial Agreement in place. This is what happened between Khloe Kardashian and her ex-husband, Lamar Odom. When the couple divorced in December of 2013, Khloe Kardashian was able to keep the $850,000 engagement ring from Lamar Odom as it was detailed in their prenuptial agreement.