The thought of an engagement proposal and spending the rest of your days with the love of your life is all too often a fantasy many of us wish for. However, sometimes, engagements are nothing more than false promises and broken dreams.

What with Valentine’s Day here once again, the ultimate declaration of love can be defined (for some people) by the popping of the question – “Will you marry me?” Unfortunately, some people retract that question before you make it down the aisle and you can suddenly find yourself being challenged to return your engagement ring.

From a moral perspective, some people might return the ring without a second thought, whilst thinking “good riddance to bad rubbish” and thank their now ex – partner for showing their true colours before marriage has even started. From a legal perspective, however, the question remains, is the recipient legally obliged to return the engagement ring?

Battling through emotions is one thing, but the law lends itself to a rather straightforward legal argument. The crucial point with regard to this area in law can be found in the The Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970, which states that:

“The gift of an engagement ring shall be presumed to be an absolute gift; this presumption may be rebutted by proving that the ring was given on the condition, express or implied, that it should be returned if the marriage did not take place for any reason.”

Essentially, if there is not an agreement as to what happens to the engagement ring if the wedding is called off, the recipient is not obliged, legally, to return the ring. The above Act states that if a condition (be it expressed or implied) is discussed beforehand. i.e. if the engagement breaks down, the recipient must return the ring, then the engagement ring needs to be returned. This argument also applies to family heirlooms, for example, if an engagement ring carries sentimental value, the above Act can be applied, and the ring be returned (although, this can be challenged). Many couples however do not think of such qualms and disclaimers when proposing and so legal arguments only unravel in the event of a breakdown of an engagement.

When divorcing, the argument of who keeps the ring can also crop up. Without the presence of a pre–nuptial agreement, it again follows that an engagement ring is an absolute gift and should therefore be kept by the recipient, unless a condition is attached when gifting the ring. Picture it now: “Will you Marry Me?” to “Will you Marry Me? And, in the event that this marriage falls through, can I have my ring back?”

It is also interesting to consider how religious and cultural engagement ceremonies are dealt with by The Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970. Some cultures may not have a “traditional engagement proposal” and those famous four words of “Will you marry me”. The same principle applies though – if there are conditions not attached, the ring is the recipient’s to keep.

A broken engagement can be a highly emotive, distressing and challenging time. Challenges pertaining to the ring are not the only issue that may arise – you may have paid deposits for venues for your upcoming wedding; started purchasing things for your dream wedding and have to cancel contracts with third parties such as caterers, decorators, etc. At rhw, we can help you with such experiences and see you through the legalities. Our friendly family team can assist.

As always, don’t think that a broken engagement is the be all and end all. If your ex-fiancé left you, that is their loss and you are much better off without them. Well, most of the time anyway….

Clare McNeill – rhw solicitors LLP

Need some legal advice? Email the family law team – or call rhw divorce Solicitors in Guildford on 01483 302000