Even though Mariah Carey and her former fiancé James Packer have reportedly called it quits, rumor has it that she’s keeping her $10 million engagement ring. While stars as famous as Ms. Carey can get away with holding on to an expensive gift, or fighting for her right to keep it in court, the same can’t always be said for women who aren’t internationally known and loved.
Speaking of the battle for the bling, what exactly are a woman’s rights to her engagement ring if the wedding is called off? Can she keep it? Does the law say she has to give it back? If she refuses, what happens then? Inquiring minds need to know, so to help get to the bottom of the issue we called on an expert. Attorney Emily S. Pollock, a partner with New York’s Kasowitz’s Matrimonial and Family Law practice, answers your burning questions.
1. The Law Depends On Where You Live
What does federal law say about a woman keeping her engagement ring?
The issue of who gets to keep the engagement ring if the marriage never occurs is a state law issue. So, even if this issue were to be raised in a case heard by a Federal Court—for example, if the issue came up in the context of a bankruptcy proceeding—the Federal Court would apply the law of the appropriate state.
How can a woman determine her rights to her ring in her state?
The easiest way to determine your rights is to consult with an attorney who practices in your state.
2. The Ball Is In His Court
Is it common for women to go to court to fight to keep their engagement ring when the wedding never happened? How do most cases resolve?
Since the woman usually has possession of the ring when the engagement is called off, it is the person who proposed to her who will have to take some action if they believe they are entitled to get the ring back. If the ring-giver seeks the court’s assistance in getting the ring back, the outcome will depend on which law that state follows. In many states, including New York, an engagement ring is considered a conditional gift and if the marriage does not occur, the ring must be returned. In other states, the court will look at who is to blame for the broken engagement and take that into consideration in deciding whether the ring must be returned. In still other states, once the ring is given and accepted, the woman gets it keep it regardless of whether the marriage occurs or who is to blame for a broken engagement.
3. Selling It Too Soon Could Cost You
If a woman keeps and sells the ring instead of returning it, what happens then?
If she keeps and sells the ring and a court determines that she had no right to keep it, she likely will have to pay her fiancé back for the value of the ring.
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4. Don’t Assume You Don’t Have to Return It Because It Was a Gift
What's best way to proceed after a split if you want to keep the ring?
There is not much a woman can do to hold on to a ring that she is not entitled to retain under the laws of her state. In states where the no-fault conditional gift analysis is applied, like New York, there is nothing she can do to be legally-entitled to keep her ring except marry her fiancée. In states where there is a fault analysis, she may be able to keep her ring if she can show that she is not to blame for the broken engagement, so she would want to retain the necessary proof of that (i.e., proof that her fiancée cheated or committed fraud or is the one who got cold feet). But the surest way to be legally-entitled to keep one’s engagement ring after a split is to live in a state that says it becomes the woman’s property as soon as she accepts it.
5. Put Simply: Know Your Rights Before You Act
What’s your best advice for women who find themselves in this awkward situation?
As with all issues related to marriage and the contemplation thereof, women should know their rights. If an engagement ends and you want to keep your ring, find out what a court in your state would do, and if it’s not the result you want, be prepared to give back the ring unless you can convince your fiancé not to ask for its return.