Who gets the engagement ring?
Family solicitor, Alan Stanley, answers this interesting and occasionally asked question.
In short it depends on whether the couple break up before the wedding, or divorce afterward. In the case where the wedding is called off, the answer to this question is found in Section 3(2) of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970, which states:
(2) The gift of an engagement ring shall be presumed to be an absolute gift; this presumption may be rebutted by proving that the ring was given on the condition, express or implied, that it should be returned if the marriage did not take place for any reason.
This means that unless it can be shown that during or before the proposal, the person proposing marriage (or civil partnership) made it clear to their would-be fiancé that the ring is conditional on the marriage taking place, then the ring remains the absolute property of the person it was given to.
Imagine the scenario, the love of your life gets down on one knee and asks for your hand in marriage. They pull from their pocket a jewellery box, open it and hold it up for you to see. Inside is a beautiful engagement ring, perhaps a full carat of very exquisite diamond mounted on a simple platinum band. The ring is taken from the box by your suitor, and you hold out your quivering left hand saying ‘Yes, Yes! A thousand times, yes!’
But before the ring is placed on your finger, your suitor snatches it away and instead produces a piece of paper for you to sign to agree to give the ring back if either of you decide to call it off before the wedding. Not anyone’s idea of romance…
Not surprisingly, no would be claimant has yet produced to the Court a written promise proving that the ring was a conditional gift. There have been a few attempts to convince the Court that a verbal agreement preceded the proposal and placing of the ring on the fiance’s finger, but even this seems to be a difficult scenario for a Judge to imagine. For example, in Cox v Jones  EWHC 1486 (Ch),  2 FLR 1010, Mann J remarked (at 53):
. . . Having heard the evidence, I reject as implausible the unromantic express remark which Mr Jones says that he made [while on holiday together, that if the relationship broke down he would want the ring back]’
If however, the marriage has taken place, the engagement ring loses its lustre and special status to instead occupy a place among the rest of the matrimonial assets to be counted up and distributed in financial remedy proceedings on divorce or dissolution.
For advice on a range of family law matters, contact Alan Stanley on 01202 558844.