Some Diamonds are NOT Forever: Who keeps the ring when an engagement is called off?

This week’s news is buzzing with Jennifer Lopez’s million-dollar engagement ring. After seeing J.Lo’s left hand droop under the weight of the diamond, even the most hopeless of romantics are left wondering: who gets to keep the iceberg ring if the relationship falls apart before the wedding?

Albertans who have called their engagement off (or who are contemplating it) may also be questioning if an engagement ring is treated like a traditional gift, or if it is possible for the giver to recover it when nuptials do not follow the proposal.

Alberta Law on Engagement Ring Returns

The general rule is that where an engagement is broken, the engagement ring must be returned to the person who “gifted” the ring because the condition of getting married was not fulfilled. Alberta Courts view engagement rings as “conditional gifts” because they are usually given on the condition that the parties will say their “I do’s”.

It is irrelevant who caused the break-up in determining the right of the giver to recover the gift. Unlike many Canadian provinces, Alberta has legislation which specifically outlines that if a person makes a gift to another “in contemplation of or conditional on their marriage” and if the marriage does not take place, fault will not be considered in determining who has the right to recover the gift (Family Law Act, s. 102). In short, the blameworthy party is not precluded from recovering the engagement ring.

After a couple marries, the condition on the gift is fulfilled and the engagement ring is owned by the person who received it. In the event of divorce, the giver will have a difficult time arguing that they should be able to recover the ring and it is unlikely that they will be successful. The expectation is that the couple will marry, not remain married indefinitely for the ring to remain with the receiver.  

Exceptions to the General Rule

In a recent Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench case, Bhachu v Brown, 2019 ABQB 150, Justice M.J. Lema found that the engagement ring should be kept by the party who received it, even though the condition of entering into a marital union did not take place. In Bhachu, the Judge found that the Defendant was entitled to keep the ring because of “the long period (five years) during which the parties were engaged with no evidence of concrete steps towards marriage” and he took into consideration that both parties gifted rings to each other (Bhachu, para 149).

The Court will look at the intention of the proposing party and whether there is any evidence which would confirm that the giver intended for the engagement ring to be kept even if the couple does not marry. If the proposer’s actions before or after separation show that the recipient should keep the engagement ring even if the parties do not wed, it is viewed as an “absolute gift” by the Court. Delay in requesting the ring back will be an indication that it was intended as a gift without any restrictions, and meant to be kept by the person who received it indefinitely.

Obtain Independent Legal Advice to Protect Your Interests

Couples can ensure the engagement ring, or any other asset, is protected in the event of relationship breakdown by entering into a cohabitation or marriage agreement. Couples may also enter into an agreement after they have married (a “post-nup”). Banaszek Family Law offers flat rates for these types of uncontested agreements.

You may require further legal advice on property division and adult interdependent partner support if you and your partner were in a common law relationship before separating. To help ensure that there are no doubts about who will keep the engagement ring or any other assets in your relationship before or after the marriage, consult with a family lawyer in your jurisdiction. Schedule an initial consultation with Adrianna Banaszek to find out how you can legally protect yourself and your assets, regardless of their monetary value ●

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