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Whose Ring Is It Anyway?

Love is in the air. Between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, there is a surge of wedding proposals. There is also a surge in purchasing expensive diamond engagement rings. Usually those engagements end in wedding bells and nuptials. However, sometimes they do not. Current statistics show twenty percent of engaged couples break off an engagement before the wedding.

When the engagement ends, who ends up with the ring?

An engagement ring, given as part of a proposal, has been found to be a conditional gift.

It is a gift, given by one party, to another, in contemplation of the parties being married. The proposal itself is a contract between two people. A promise to marry. Once the parties are married, the condition for the gift is met. The person who received the engagement ring is now the owner of the ring. The ring is a gift, that cannot be taken back by the giver.

In Illinois, the courts have typically required the return of an engagement ring if the parties fail to marry. The courts found that an engagement ring is a gift given in contemplation of a marriage and is a conditional gift, meaning if the marriage does not happen, then the ring should be returned to the one who proposed.

However, what happens if the person who is proposed to breaks off the engagement? What if the person with the ring acts in such a way which makes going ahead with the marriage impossible? What if there is infidelity by the person who proposed during the engagement? What if there is other abuse, addiction or other faults committed by the party that proposed, making it a valid choice for the individual in possession of the engagement ring to call off the wedding? What if the person who gave the ring is at fault for the breakup? The cases as they are now being decided find that whose fault it is does not matter. The ring has to be returned if the marriage does not go forward.

The underlying law which is used as basis for the lawsuit is called a replevin action, and under the Illinois replevin laws, there is no mention of assessing or considering “fault” when determining who is entitled to keep the ring. It matters who purchases the ring, why it was purchased, and why the party has the ring in her possession. The judges are not looking at who was the bad person. The judge has to decide who has the right to possess and keep the ring.

I recently represented a woman who was given a very expensive diamond cocktail ring by her boyfriend. They broke up. She kept the ring. Six years after the breakup, the boyfriend filed suit for return of the ring, claiming it was an engagement ring, and my client wrongfully kept it. My client’s position was that it was just a gift, as there was no proposal, and no engagement, therefore there was no conditional gift made, and the ring was my hers. The judge dismissed the action with prejudice, not even deciding whether it was an engagement ring, because the boyfriend brought the lawsuit six years after the breakup. There is a five year statute of limitations from the time of the breakup to bring an action to recover an engagement ring. He was a year too late. It was a interesting case to work on. If you have any interesting litigation cases, call me. I would love to discuss it with you.

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