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When Is It Too Late to Get an Engagement Ring Back?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on January 02, 2019 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Not every marriage proposal is a good idea. And, judging from Reddit's Relationships section, some of you made some very bad choices recently. Whether you proposed "whilst drunk on New Year's Eve" or took a knee on Christmas and are regretting it already, the biggest issue in most broken engagements is who gets the ring.

Here's what you need to know:

Gift, Conditional Gift, or Compensation?

Whether you can get an engagement ring back following nixed nuptials will depend on state law, and how the state treats the ring:

  • As a gift: If the ring is considered an outright gift, even if the gift-giver changes their mind, they cannot get the ring back;
  • As a conditional gift: If the engagement ring is seen as a gift given on the condition that the proposed marriage be completed, the person who gave the ring may get it back if the marriage is called off (most states employ this method or resolving ring disputes);
  • As compensation: If the ring is viewed as compensation (perhaps for money or labor that the proposer received) the person receiving the ring may be able to keep it.

Some jurisdictions apply these principles regardless of who breaks the engagement. However, there are some courts who have taken a "fault-based" approach, allowing a jilted ring-giver to get it back or the receiver to keep it if the giver calls off the marriage.


Clearly, the sooner the engagement is called off, the more likely you are to get the ring back. (Although the amicability of the split may be more of a determining factor.) But in some cases, courts have ordered rings returned years after an engagement ended. Good luck trying to get the engagement ring back following a divorce, however -- even states that treat rings as conditional gifts will consider that condition met after the "I do"s are exchanged, even if an "I don't want to anymore" follows.

So be careful with your marriage proposals. And if you weren't, at least be careful in choosing an attorney.

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