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MarriageThe Return of Engagement Rings Re-Visited

October 6, 2008

In writing this blog, I always find it interesting to observe which articles are most viewed. Over time, I have observed that the articles I’ve written about broken engagements and the return of engagement rings are quite heavily trafficked.   So then, it came as no surprise to me that the New York Times contained a fairly comprehensive article about If Things Fall Apart, Who Gets The Ring?

While the law in New York regarding the return of engagement rings is well settled, the article points out that there is no uniform national rule about the return of engagement rings if the couple fails to marry.

Most states, New York included, follow the rule that:

. . . in recent years courts have almost always held that the ring goes back to the buyer, no matter the circumstances. The premise is that the engagement ring is a conditional gift — the condition being that a marriage take place. And if it does not, the agreement is rendered null and void. Furthermore, courts have ruled that it does not matter who broke the engagement, the donor or the recipient.

In New York, the exception to the to the rule is that if the man is married when he proposes and gives an engagement ring to his second bride-to-be, he cannot legally contract to marry. If the second marriage does not take place, he does not get the ring back.

For those who care, the law may be different from what is good etiquette or chivalrous. According to the article proper etiquette dictates that:

. . . the person who breaks the engagement is responsible for making good. “If the woman breaks it, she should send the ring back immediately,” Ms.[Letitia] Baldrige said. “If it is the man, he should say, ‘Of course you keep the ring.’ ”

As for the laws of chivalry, Raoul Felder questioned “I can’t understand how a man is not embarrassed to ask for his ring back. It always amazes me what happened to chivalry.”

I wonder if Mr. Felder represents only women or, if he represents men, does he advise them that though legal entitled to the return of the engagement rings, they should not seek to recover it because they are being un-chivalrous?

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