In Massachusetts, an engagement ring is usually considered a conditional gift: given on the condition that the couple gets married. The normal expectation is that if the engagement is broken and the wedding doesn't occur, then the ring will be returned. However, it doesn't always work out this way. In the event a dispute about an engagement ring makes its way to court, the court will look at the circumstances surrounding the giving of the ring and the circumstances surrounding the breakup of the couple.
Some people give the ring on an
important day in the calendar. An engagement ring given on a
birthday or on Christmas can be a combination of a unconditional gift
and a conditional gift. If a court determines that the ring was a
birthday gift, then it is not conditional and should not be returned.
This concept should encourage giving the ring on a day that is only
special because the engagement occurs on that day.
The way in which the couple breaks up
can decide who gets the ring. If it is a mutual decision to not get
married, then the ring should be returned as the wedding did not
occur. However, if one of the parties misbehaves and this causes the
break up, then it is a different result. The party who is at fault
for the end of the relationship can't get the ring. If there is
fault such as an affair, physical abuse, or other wrongful conduct,
then the ring will go to the party without fault. If neither party
is at fault, then the ring is returned to the donor.
The result is different after the
marriage if a divorce occurs. Once the marriage occurs, the
condition of the conditional gift has been met and the recipient of
the ring gets to keep the ring. Unlike an engagement, fault in the
termination of the marriage does not effect ownership of the
engagement ring. Once the condition of the marriage is met, the gift
is complete. This doesn't mean that the ring can never be returned.
In a divorce in Massachusetts, a divorce judge has great discretion
in property division. The judge's power extends to almost all
property including the engagement ring. This means that a judge can
change ownership of the ring to fairly and equitably divide all
property owned by the couple. As a general rule, a judge won't look
to change ownership of a ring unless the ring has significant value.
In most divorces, the judge will let the recipient keep the ring.
If you are getting divorced an
experienced divorce lawyer can advise you on property division
including the manner to treat the engagement ring.