With Valentine’s Day a couple days away, many people have purchased engagement rings with the intent of getting engaged on Valentine’s Day. As we all know, not all engagements result in wedded bliss and some people never make it down the aisle. Thus, the question remains what happens to the engagement ring if the engagement is broken.
Under New Jersey case law, the engagement ring is reviewed as a conditional gift provided to the recipient in contemplation of marriage. The condition of marriage needs to be fulfilled in order for the recipient to keep the ring. Thus, if the parties do not marry, the engagement ring belongs to the donor and not the recipient. Fault does not play any role with respect to the analysis of which party receives the engagement ring after a broken engagement as confirmed in Aronow v. Silver, 223 N.J. Super. 344 (Ch. Div. 1987). In Aronow v. Silver, there was conflicting testimony as to which party ended the engagement. However, the court confirmed that New Jersey adheres to the minority rule regarding the return of engagement rings, namely that fault is irrelevant. Therefore, even if the donor called off the wedding because he or she was having an affair, the engagement ring would still need to be returned to the donor.
Interestingly, if the ring is given on a holiday, i.e. Valentine’s Day or Christmas, the question becomes whether the ring was a conditional gift in contemplation of marriage or a plain vanilla gift. This analysis would become very fact sensitive. If the ring is considered a gift and not a conditional gift, the recipient would be allowed to keep the ring even if the engagement was broken.
If there is no wedding, then the engagement ring will need to be returned to the donor despite who is at fault with respect to why the engagement was broken. However, if you get married and then subsequently divorced, the engagement ring belongs to the recipient and is not subject to equitable distribution as the condition of marriage was met.