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 unequivocally: the person who gave the ring in anticipation of the marriage.
The definitive case on this issue is Meyer v Mitnick, 244 Mich App 697 (2001). In that case, Dr. Barry Meyer purchased a custom-designed engagement ring for his finance Robyn Mitnick at the cost of $19,500. Prior to the marriage, Dr. Meyer asked Ms. Mitnick to sign a prenuptial agreement, and Ms. Mitnick refused. The marriage was called off.
Subsequently, Ms. Mitnick refused to return the engagement ring, so Dr. Meyer sued her for its return. Dr. Meyer argued that the engagement ring was a conditional gift, given in anticipation of marriage, and since the marriage wasn’t going to happen, the gift should be returned. Ms. Mitnick argued that Dr. Meyer broke the engagement, and thus was at fault for the marriage not occurring, and that based upon 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 because it is a conditional gift, and that issues of fault do not determine who keeps the ring. Ms. Mitnick appealed that decision to the Michigan Court of Appeals.
The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed 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 is given back to the person that gave it in anticipation of the marriage.
Keep in mind, however, 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 is fulfilled, and the engagement ring, once a conditional gift, is now an outright gift and (typically) belongs solely to the person receiving it. Diving rings in a divorce therefore involves a different set of legal questions.
Sign up to receive a 10-part series of useful information and legal advice about the divorce process.