Getting engaged is a time of great excitement. From showing off the ring to friends and family, to re-telling the engagement story to anyone who will listen, newly engaged couples are full of hope and expectations.
Unfortunately, not every engagement ends in marriage. When an engaged couple breaks up, the two people involved are often left with hurt feelings and resentment. Some of this resentment is focused on the couple’s engagement ring. The person who gave the ring may have spent several thousand dollars on the piece of jewelry, and may understandably want that investment back. The person who received the ring may be hesitant to return it, because of lingering feelings or simply out of spite. The question then becomes: when an engagement ends, who gets to keep the ring?
Every state treats engagement rings differently. In some states, the ring is looked at as a gift, which means that the person who received the ring is free to keep it forever.
In Washington State, an engagement ring is normally considered a conditional gift. The ring is given on the condition that the couple weds; without a wedding, the condition is not fulfilled and the receiver is obligated to return the ring to the giver.
However, there is an exception to this rule. According to a Washington Court of Appeals case decided in 1990, the person who received the ring is not obligated to return it if the person who gave the ring unjustifiably broke the engagement.
Figuring out which party is at fault for the end of a relationship can get messy. In general, the Court of Appeals held that unless the person who gave the ring is at fault for the breakup, then the ring should be returned.
For example, if the person who gave the ring cheated, causing the end of the relationship, then he (or she) would lose the right to demand the return of the ring. If there is no true determination of fault, like if both parties mutually agreed that the relationship should end, then the giver would not be at fault and would be entitled to the return of the ring.
The rule for engagement rings is unique in Washington’s family laws. In a marriage, there is no determination of fault, and both parties split property evenly regardless of who caused the divorce. The rule is different in this case because the condition was already met—since the couple actually got married, the gift of the engagement ring is no longer conditional and instead belongs to the receiver. The engagement ring can still be considered part of the couple’s community property, however, and could be given to either spouse depending on the way the property is split.
At Pacific Northwest Family Law, we understand that ending a relationship is never easy, especially if you are not sure what your rights are after a breakup. Our knowledgeable Washington family law attorneys understand your situation, and will help you negotiate a divorce or separation agreement that allows you and your former partner to move forward with your lives.
If you would like more information about your rights and obligations, call us at 509-572-3700.