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Family Law Blog

Who Keeps the Ring if an Engagement Fails?

Who Keeps the Ring if an Engagement Fails?

Couples never forget the moment they got engaged. It’s a magical time where lifelong dreams are fulfilled, alongside the exchange of an expensive ring. 99 times out of 100, there’s no issue. Plans are made for the wedding and the happy couple settles in to married life. Unfortunately, there are rare instances where the engagement goes sideways and can even become a legal issue. With rings costing so much nowadays, who gets to keep the ring if the engagement fails?

What Does the Law State?

Like many of these issues, we can turn to the law for guidance. Most Canadian provinces have passed laws governing rights to the engagement ring if the marriage doesn’t go ahead. British Columbia is unusual in that it doesn’t have specific legislation to deal with this issue. However, law relating to engagement rings is reasonably well settled.

Courts in British Columbia treat engagement rings as “conditional gifts” and therefore returnable if the engagement is broken off. While it might be important to the parties involved, BC courts will not look at whose fault it was the marriage fell through. Precedent in this issue can be summarized in in Sperling v. Gouwstra, 2004 BCSC 330:

In the absence of persuasive evidence either way, I am unable to say who ended the relationship, but in my view it does not matter.  The ring should be returned to Sperling, who paid for it.

While we hate ambiguity in the legal world, it’s worth noting an individual might be able to keep an engagement ring if they can prove the ring was given as an “absolute gift” rather than a “conditional gift.” The onus is on the recipient to prove the ring was intended as a gift without any strings attached. What’s the difference between an absolute and conditional gift? Lets refer once more to legal precedent.

In P.S. v. H.R., 2016 BCSC 2071, where the parties met after their relationship had ended. The Court accepted that the following facts:

When Ms. R. attempted to return the engagement ring to Mr. S. he insisted that she keep it and, when she asked “So you’re giving this to me?”, he said “yes”. He suggested she try to take the ring back and use the money to help with her daughter’s wedding. These are words evincing a clear intention to make an absolute gift.

As a result, Ms. R was mandated to keep the ring as it was deemed an “absolute gift” rather than one made on a promise to marry.

A Mutual Promise to Marry

An engagement ring is typically handed over as part of a mutual promise to marry. If this agreement is terminated, for whatever reason, the ring should be returned to the person who bought it. Courts will only deviate from this where clear evidence is present the ring was given as a no-strings attached gift.

Find Out More

Westside Family Law can assist with any legal aspect of the engagement process. Contact us and we’ll be happy to assist.