The Wedding’s Off—Now Who Keeps the Engagement Ring?

Posted over 3 years ago. Applies to Michigan, 1 helpful vote

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You are engaged to be married, and have either bought or received a beautiful (expensive) engagement ring. Unfortunately, something happens to destroy the pre-wedded bliss and the wedding is called off for good. If the marriage never happens, who gets the engagement ring? The courts in Michigan have answered that question unequivocally: the person who gave the ring in anticipation of the marriage gets it back.

The definitive case on this issue in Michigan is Meyer v Mitnick, 244 Mich App 697 (2001). In that Oakland County Circuit Court divorce case, Dr. Barry Meyer purchased a custom-designed engagement ring for his finance’ Robyn Mitnick at the cost of $19,500. After he gave her the engagement ring, but prior to the marriage, Dr. Meyer asked Ms. Mitnick to sign a prenuptial agreement. Ms. Mitnick refused. What happened next? The marriage was called off.

However, Ms. Mitnick refused to return the engagement ring. So, in return, Dr. Meyer sued her to get it back. Dr. Meyer argued that the engagement ring was a conditional gift, given only in anticipation of marriage, and since the marriage wasn’t going to happen, the gift should be returned. Ms. Mitnick argued that Dr. Meyer was at fault for the marriage not happening since he broke off the marriage. She argued that based upon that fault, she should be allowed to keep the ring.

The trial court, Oakland County Circuit Court, ruled that the ring should be returned to Dr. Meyer, deciding that because the engagement ring is a conditional gift given solely in anticipation of a marriage, it must be returned to the purchaser if the marriage doesn’t happen. The trial court also decided that it didn’t matter who broke off the engagement, refusing to consider fault in determining who keeps the ring. Ms. Mitnick appealed that decision to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The Michigan Court of Appeals sided with Dr. Meyer and upheld the trial court’s decision. They concluded the following: “In sum, we hold that an engagement ring given in contemplation of marriage is an impliedly conditional gift that is a completed gift only upon marriage. If the engagement is called off, for whatever reasons, the gift is not capable of becoming a completed gift and must be returned to the donor."

Long story short, if the marriage doesn’t happen, the ring must be given back to the person that gave it.

With that being said, that two people can always come to a written agreement otherwise. If there is a written agreement that the person receiving the engagement ring can keep it regardless of what happens, that agreement would usually govern. Also keep in mind that once the couple is married, the condition of marriage is fulfilled, and the engagement ring, once a conditional gift, is now an outright gift and belongs solely to the person receiving it.

Additional Resources

you are interested in learning more, please call Wendy Alton at 734-665-4441 or email her at walton@psedlaw.com. More information about her firm, Pear Sperling Eggan & Daniels, P.C., can be found here: www.psedlaw.com.

Pear Sperling Eggan & Daniels PC

"on the record: Michigan family law"

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