If a marriage engagement is broken off, who gets the wedding ring?

The wedding ring is not treated the same as other property. A different analysis is required. The result depends on how the relationship ends. It is often the case that before marriage or even during divorce that people argue over who should be awarded the wedding ring. If the parties marry, the gift of the wedding ring is absolute, and the recipient may keep the ring. Of course the starting point in any conversation about property and marriage is the character of property as separate or community in nature. Initially, any gift or property owned before marriage is the separate property of the owner before marriage. Any gift or inheritance of property to a married person is also SEPARATE in character. Then, the COMMUNITY property presumption applies to any property acquired after marriage other than by gift or inheritance. So where does the wedding ring fit? What happens if the couple breaks up before the marriage? As often is true in the law, the short answer is “it depends”. The result depends on who ends the engagement. In Curtis v. Anderson, 106 S.W.3d 251, (Tex. App. Austin, 2003, writ denied), the Court explained the conditional gift rule. In that case, Mr. Curtis gave Ms. Anderson a ring for their engagement. Id. At 253. Curtis and Anderson broke up less than two months later, and Anderson refused to return the ring. Id. Historically, if the recipient of the conditional gift in contemplation of marriage had ended the relationship before the marriage, the gift could be recovered. Id. at 253 citing McLain v. Gilliam, 389 S.W.2d 131 (Tex.Civ.App.-Eastland 1965, writ ref’d n.r.e.)($4200 conditional gift woman to the man. He paid his debts, then ended the relationship. Woman recovered the money.) Curtis is a Texas case of first impression, determining what happens when the giver of the ring, the donor, breaks the engagement. Id. at 256. In Texas, the conditional gift rule involves an element of fault. Id. at 255. More simply stated, the circumstances of the end of the relationship provide the result. After reviewing the opinions of various other jurisdictions, the Curtis court stated, “On principle, an engagement ring is given, not alone as a symbol of the status of the two persons engaged, the one to the other, but as a symbol or token of their pledge and agreement to marry. As such pledge or gift, the condition is implied that if both parties abandon the projected marriage, the sole cause of the gift, it should be returned. Similarly, if the woman, who has received the ring in token of her promise, unjustifiably breaks her promise, it should be returned. When the converse situation occurs, and the giver of the ring, betokening his promise, violates his word, it would seem that a similar result should follow, i.e., he should lose, not gain, rights to the ring. In addition, had he not broken his promise, the marriage would follow, and the ring would become the wife’s absolutely. The man could not then recover the ring.” Id. at 256. Since Mr. Curtis terminated the relationship before the wedding, Ms. Anderson could keep the ring. This must have been quite a ring, because these parties tried to take this question to the Texas Supreme Court, but the petition for review was denied. 2003 Tex. LEXIS 395.

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