Are Engagement Rings Conditional Gifts?

For a long time, there has been a fairly standard rule in Australia that an engagement ring is considered a “conditional gift”, meaning that the man gave the woman a ring upon the condition that they become husband and wife. This meant that if the engagement was called off by the woman then the woman had to give back the engagement ring as she was not fulfilling the condition of marriage. Also, it meant that if the man felt he had to call off the engagement because of some actions by the woman then the woman had to give back the engagement ring as she was preventing the condition of marriage from being fulfilled.

This approach has generally been adopted in most cases over a very long period. However, a recent case seems to suggest that the law might be changing along with the times. A Sydney man recently found this out the hard way.

Who Keeps & Owns The Engagement Ring?

Mr T sued his former fiancée, Ms S, in the Local Court for the return of the engagement ring after she refused to hand it back. The engagement ring was worth about $15,000. It was Mr T who called off the engagement 10 days before the wedding was scheduled to take place. Mr T said that the pair met up following their break-up and agreed to give back everything that belonged to the other person. This went so far as Mr T taking his shoes off and handing them to Ms S as she had bought them.

Despite this exchange, the Magistrate determined that there was no oral contract established between Mr T and Ms S and he dismissed previous cases where “jilted brides” have been forced to hand back their engagement rings. The Magistrate found that an engagement ring should be seen as an “unconditional gift” and a person should no longer be able to sue for “a breach of a promise to marry”. However, he did say that the gift of an engagement ring can still be made conditional by “words or conduct” but that Mr T had not established that.

It seems more than likely now that answering the question of who gets to keep the ring will depend on the circumstances of each individual case. For more information on this topic or if you have undergone a recent separation and need to discuss a property settlement, you should contact East Coast Family Lawyers today.