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DivorceProperty DivisionBroken Engagement- Who Keeps the Ring

July 10, 2006

Both New York tabloids picked up this weekend on a widely reported case involving a broken engagement and the return of an engagement ring. (Finance Hits Rock Bottom and Fiance is “Gift” Rapped.)  For purposes of complete disclosure, I represented the husband-to-be

In this case, the husband-to-be sought to recover a large diamond engagement ring given to his ex-finance, who broke off the engagement. The woman was allowed to keep the valuable ring.

An engagement ring is a gift made in contemplation of marriage.   That is, the gift is conditioned upon the marriage actually taking place.   If the marriage takes place, the condition is satisfied, and the woman is permitted to keep the ring.   Conversely, if the marriage does not occur, the would-be-bride must return the ring.

So why was the woman, who broke off the engagement, allowed to retain the engagement ring? Because, there is an exception to the general rule: if a man is already married, he cannot legally contract to wed.  The condition for giving the ring cannot be satisfied. Therefore, the woman is entitled to retain the purported gift made in contemplation of marriage even if the parties never wed.

The recent case was interesting because the man actually had been granted a divorce in Massachusetts, one month before he gave his fiancee the engagement ring. However, unlike New York, where the parties are free to re-marry as soon as the judgment of divorce is entered, in Massachusetts, the divorce does not become absolute until the passage of some time.

Although the man had successfully done everything that had to be done in order to obtain a divorce, that the divorce had been granted and that that all that was required for the divorce to become absolute was the passage of time, the Court ruled that the man was impaired from remarrying. Therefore, he was not entitled to the return of his ring.

The moral- Do not become engaged unless and until you are legally divorced

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