Other than Christmas, Valentine's Day is the day when most engagements take place. Traditionally, with the marriage proposal comes an engagement ring. In an ideal world, newly engaged happy couples stay that way through to the wedding. However, in the event things don't quite go as planned, it might be practical to know what legal rights surround the engagement ring in the event of a breakup.
An engagement ring that accompanies a proposal is considered to be a gift given in the contemplation of marriage. The gift in the form of the engagement ring would not be given unless for the promise of a future marriage. There is a statute in the California Civil Code 1590 that addresses this type of gift.
According to the statute, the circumstances surrounding the breakup determine the proper owner of the engagement ring. The "giver" may recover the ring or the value of the ring if the "receiver" refuses to enter into marriage. The "giver" also has a right to recover the ring if the contemplated marriage is abandoned by mutual consent.
Although not explicitly stated in the statute, subsequent case law has determined that the "receiver" of the engagement ring is entitled to keep the ring if the "giver" refuses to enter the marriage without any fault of the "receiver." Therefore, if the "giver" is the one who backs out of the wedding, then the "giver" does not have the right to get the engagement ring back.
Even though the statute specifically applies to gifts given in contemplation marriage, general principles of fraud may still apply and affect any claim to recovery.