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Jake and Vienna Split, So Who Keeps the Ring?

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on June 22, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Oh, no they di'int. They split. The Romeo and Juliet of our generation split up. Who in the world could have seen this coming? Jake Pavelka and Vienna Girardi, a match made in reality TV hell, er, heaven, have gone their separate ways. They are asking for privacy at this difficult, difficult time.

To avoid a mere re-hash of the extensive media coverage of the sad end to the romance of the century, (sorry, Duke and Duchess of Windsor) let us focus upon the truly important economic and legal aspect of this event. Who gets to keep the ring? In this time of recession and still high unemployment, even perhaps for reality show stars, the division of property worth as much as a nearly 3.0 carat diamond ring is a matter for serious consideration. According to reliable source, Vienna Girardi's little trinket was a Neil Lane princess cut diamond ring worth $50,000. This is worth holding onto, no?

And yet, sadly, the laws of the various states are not in agreement as to not only who actually should keep the ring after the dissolution of an engagement, but even what legal theory should apply in that situation. Some states use the gift theory. They say the ring is gift and if it was intended as such, delivered and accepted, the recipient keeps the ring. Among the courts subscribing to this theory, the Supreme Court of Montana. Gift theory = Vienna keeps the ring.

Some states' courts say the ring is a conditional gift. When the condition is breached (failure to marry) the gift must be returned. Conditional gift theory = Jake keeps the ring.

Other courts bravely take the conditional gift theory one step further and ask, who was the cause of the failure to marry? The fault theory will allow the party who was not the cause of the break-up to keep the ring. This can get tricky, however. Suppose one party cheats, causing the other to break the engagement off? Does the fault lie with the cheating party or the declining party? Many judges are wisely reluctant to go there. But those that do operate on the theory that it is unjust to reward a party for breach of a contract. Fault theory = who knows at this point?

Finally, as in cases of divorce, many courts rely on a no-fault theory of engagement dissolution and ring retrieval. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania along with courts in Iowa, Kansas, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Wisconsin all rely on a no-fault, engagement is off and donor (giver) keeps the ring theory. No-fault = Jake keeps the ring.

Who wins not only the ring but the undying (for the next fifteen minutes) love of the public may depend on which state's laws apply and on what the heck happened?? Still care? Don't touch your Tivo.

Editor's Note: Turns out, ABC gets the ring. Supposedly, it's in the contract. The ring now "goes back into production." 

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