While divorce is unfortunately all too common among New Yorkers, another issue that does not get discussed nearly as much is the financial impact of weddings that don’t end up taking place. While all for the best in the long run, there can be serious financial repercussions resulting from a broken engagement. In fact, this can be to the extent that the former fiancées each need to get a lawyer or attorney to best represent their interests in addressing issues such as wedding gifts, any property they purchased together, and the like.
However, there is always one big question that EVERYONE has when a wedding is called off: Who keeps the ring?
Under New York Law, no matter how much money an engagement ring was, how short the marriage was, or who filed for divorce, the answer has always been and continued to be clear when the parties were actually married. In the event of a divorce, a New York court will state that the wife gets to keep the engagement ring, to do with as she wishes, whether to keep or to sell. Her lawyer or attorney does not have to work particularly hard to ensure his or her client’s rights are enforced. It is pretty much a given.
The real issue arises when the parties never made it to the altar in the first place. Historically, it was custom that if the person who purchased the ring called off the wedding, or engaged in behavior that resulted in the wedding being called off, the recipient got to keep the ring, even though it was a gift given in anticipation of marriage. On the other hand, if the recipient of the ring called of the wedding or engaged in behavior resulting in a broken engagement, they had to return the ring to the purchaser. Although New York law has long since been updated to reflect an entirely different set of rules, many people still incorrectly think that this is the existing policy.
Today, under New York law, there is a completely different legal scenario when a couple doesn’t end up making it down the aisle. Instead of a fault placing dispute, the lawyers or attorneys are going to have to work to establish one of two things, depending on who they represent.
The lawyer or attorney for the person who gave the ring will have to establish that the ring was a given only in the anticipation of marriage, as opposed to being just a regular gift of jewelry. Specifically, they must show it was truly an engagement ring. If this can be established, the recipient of the ring must return it to the purchaser.
On the other hand, the lawyer or attorney for the person receiving the ring will, if the marriage never took place (meaning no divorce and presumption that the recipient gets to keep the ring), need to show that the ring was not in fact an engagement ring, but a regular gift of a non-specific item of jewelry. In other words, that the “engagement ring” was not actually an engagement ring.
Although that might sound like a hard thing to do since engagement rings are sort of distinctive (and typically are proceeded by a pretty clear proposal), there was a recent case in New York where a couple that was never married (and therefore never divorced) but who had a child split up and entered a legal battle over a rather expensive alleged engagement ring. Here, although the prospective groom claimed he had proposed at Rockefeller Center with their son present and asked his ex to marry him, the prospective wife was able to, through her lawyer or attorney, show that the ring was actually a regular gift of jewelry as opposed to something given with the understanding it was in exchange for her agreement to marry him. Therefore, she got to keep the costly bauble.
Therefore, if you and your ex never made it to the wedding ceremony (or through it), and finds themselves in litigation, be aware of what you need to establish in order to fight for the right to keep “your” engagement ring in the non-divorce.