Broken engagement -- who gets the ring in New York State?

engagement ringNo doubt many people will be getting engaged today with hopes of a long, happy life together. But what seems like a great idea this Valentine's Day... sometimes doesn't seem so great by next Valentine's Day.

So, you decide to go your separate ways. But who gets the ring? It turns out New York State actually has laws about these situations. (Of course, we have laws for everything here.)

A state law enacted in 1935 basically says that you can't sue someone for backing out of an engagement. But a 1965 addition to that law (that would be New York Civil Rights Law Section 80-b), gave ring-givers the right to ask for the ring back. (Or, as the law puts it, "Nothing in this article contained shall be construed to bar a right of action for the recovery of a chattel." Who says there isn't romance in the law?) That law, along with various court cases, has made engagement rings in New York State conditional gifts governed by "no-fault" rules. That means if the engagement doesn't result in marriage -- the ring goes back to the giver. Even if the recipient skips out to another state.

But, wait, there's more. If the ring-giver was still married when he or she proposed, the ring is no longer a conditional gift -- it's just a regular gift. And those don't have to be returned. (There was actually a case, Marshall v. Cassano, where this was decided.)

So, the short story in New York State...
+ Broken engagement where both people weren't married at the time of the proposal: ring goes back to the giver.
+ Broken engagement where the giver was still married: good luck with that.

Not that you'll ever need to know any of this.

Happy Valentine's Day.

photo by Flickr user Rose Davies, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license


I have a question about this law when both parties are married. It seems as though Marshall, being the male has broken off the engagement and Cassano keeps the ring.

How would it work of both parties were married and Cassano, being the female broke off the engagement. Would she then be entitled to still keep the ring by law or have to return it?

Not a lawyer, as they say, but my read is that it's the status of the giver that determines whether it's a gift or not -- the status of the recipient doesn't matter. So it's as the story said -- if the giver is married, it's not a conditional gift and need not be returned.

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