He Broke Off the Engagement. Do I Have to Give the Ring Back?
It's common to think that an engagement ring is an irrevocable gift, able to be kept by the recipient, even if the parties break up before marriage. Under Ohio common law, however, this belief is mostly erroneous.
Absent an agreement between the parties at the time of the engagement, under a position followed by a majority of Ohio jurisdictions, when an individual breaks off an engagement, regardless of which party is at 'fault,' the ring must be returned to the donor.
However, because of a split of authority between Ohio Courts of Appeals, jilted ex-fiances in Champaign, Clark, Darke, Greene, Miami and Montgomery Counties (Ohio's 2nd Appellate District) who wish to keep their engagement ring may be in luck. It appears the 2nd Appellate District, based upon Wion v. Henderson, 24 Hio App.3d 207 (2d Dist. 1985), follows the minority rule that a donor who unjustifiably terminates an engagement is not entitled to the return of the ring. However, should the donor justifiably terminate the relationship, it appears a court in the district would apply the majority rule.
The Wion case is very much a minority position, and has been criticized by fellow Ohio Courts of Appeals.
The majority position treats an engagement ring as a conditional gift, given in contemplation of marriage, to be returned to the donor if the marriage does not occur. See Cooper v. Smith, 155 Ohio App.3d 218 (4th Dist. 2003), Lyle v. Durham, 16 Ohio App.3d 1 (1st Dist. 1984), McIntire v. Raukhorst, 65 Ohio App.3d 728 (9th Dist. 1989). This approach recognizes that in the natural course of events it would be unusual for the ring donor to state to the donee that he was giving the ring on the condition that marriage would ensue. This, after all, would likely ruin the romantic moment.
This majority position is a 'no fault' approach. Courts have adopted this majority position in part because of the difficulties involved in determining who is at fault and whether a person's reasons for ending an engagement are justifiable. Furthermore, the approach recognizes that courts and legislatures are moving away from a fault-based approach to divorce.