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Who keeps the engagement ring in Florida when the engagement falls apart?

When a couple planning to marry calls off the wedding, the engagement ring is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. But as it may have significant value, once the dust settles, the parties may wonder who gets it.

Conditional gifting

In Florida, judges have decided that an engagement is a conditional gift. This means that the party giving it does so with the implied understanding that the gift is conditioned on the marriage actually happening. Few types of gifts are conditional in the legal sense on another event happening, but Florida cases have been clear on this in the engagement ring context.

In 1975, the District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fourth District, decided Gill v. Shively, the leading case on this issue. The court said the issue of whether a donor (partner who gave the ring) could sue to get the ring back after the donee (recipient) broke off the engagement was one of first impression, meaning that it was the first time a Florida court decided the issue.

The ring was worth almost $4,000, a lot of money in 1975. The future wife said that she was “not ready for marriage,” so the would-be husband filed the lawsuit to get the ring back.

The court said that the donee could sue for return of the ring as a conditional gift. The court looked at the decisions of courts in other states for policy and guidance to decide that the gift of an engagement ring was not “absolute.”

Who was at “fault”?

The Gill court said that this rule applies if the donee or both parties by mutual agreement break off the engagement. It is silent on what the rule is if it is the donor who breaks the engagement. States are split on what happens in this situation, but at least one out-of-state court in New York has interpreted the Florida Gill court’s silence as meaning that if it is the partner giving the ring who breaks the engagement “without legal justification,” the recipient may keep it.  

Separate, nonmarital property

After marriage, the engagement ring is the nonmarital, separate property of the recipient since it was property gifted to one party before marriage. Nonmarital property remains with its owner after divorce and is not part of the marital estate divided equitably in the divorce proceeding.

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  • The Law Office of Daniel E. Forrest represents individuals in Fort Lauderdale in high-asset divorce matters. Daniel Forrest is board-certified family lawyer and mediator serving the South Florida area.
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