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Fun Fact Friday: Who keeps the engagement ring if there is a break-up?

One of the most memorable cases we reviewed while in law school was a case about an engagement ring. The male had purchased the female a very "nice" ring. Incidentally the engagement was broken off. The question became, who gets to keep the ring?

While people may argue all day who gets to keep the ring? The legal issue was whether or not the engagement ring is a gift "in anticipation of marriage." Meaning the gifting is actually complete upon the marriage. If the marriage does not occur, then that gift (the ring) must be returned. In many of these cases, there is a actual ring payment. In a broken engagement, who bears the responsibility for the cost? As you can imagine, the case brought up an interesting debate in our class of eager 1Ls.

This case was very old but there was a news-making case not so long ago. This case was even more interesting because this (ex) fiance' brought up the argument that she was paying all of the bills and the ring payment and that the ring was for her birthday. She also argued that this ring was given in anticipation of a promise of marriage that she detrimentally relied upon. Emily Post, THE authority on etiquette has said that women should return their ring. However, right Ms. Post may be on the ways of etiquette- case law rules (pun intended).

Currently, the statute Illinois follows is the Breach of Promises Act 740 ILCS § 15/1-10 (West 2008). This statute was enacted to cover breach of promise to marry. In the past, many people had brought suits for the purpose of being vindictive therefore the court established an act to govern broken engagements. The Breach of Promise Act requires that the person who intends to file suit under this act must notify the person against whom the action is to be brought within three months from the date of the alleged breach of promise to marry. There is also a Statute of Limitations of one year.   

There are also several cases that cover this issue. In Illinois, in Harris v. Davis, 139 Ill.App.3d 1047 (5th Dist. 1986), on appeal the court determined that “a gift given in contemplated of marriage is deemed to be conditional on the subsequent marriage of the parties, and the party who fails to perform on the condition of the gift has no right to property acquired under such pretenses.” Id. at 1048. In other words the ring is a gift for the marriage-the person who does not complete that marriage has no right to the ring. Notice that the court says "the person" meaning that could either be the male or female. Additionally, recently, in 2009 Carroll v. Curry, 912 N.E.2d 273 (2d Dist. 2009) the court also ordered the return of the engagement ring (this case was determined on an issue of fault).

As usual, this blog post isn't dedicated to a concrete answer as most legal decisions are not concrete. Who keeps the engagement ring in a break-up? The case law in Illinois has varied with each case. One of my colleagues noticed that Illinois has seemed to take the fault based approach. Meaning that it depends on the reasons as to the break-up, and the party at "fault." However, there are other factors that could justify someone not keeping the ring as well. There are currently two cases up for review. I, and my colleagues are anxious to hear the results!

Thank you for reading. On some Fridays we will take a break from our "usual" humdrum and bring Fun Fact Friday. Remember to follow us on twitter @HarveyLawPC for the latest in legal news and updates.


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