Valentine's Day is well known as a day in which love is in the air and as one of the most popular days people get engaged to be married. While the majority of marriage proposals end up in the couple actually getting married, an estimated 10- 15 % do not make it to the altar. In those cases not only does the couple have to deal with potential heartbreak, but sometimes they also have to deal with the all important legal question as to who gets to keep the often bank account draining engagement ring. The answer is that it depends.
If the engagement ring was intended to be given as an unconditional gift which includes the elements of delivery, intent to give as a gift and acceptance, then the recipient of the ring will generally have exclusive rights to the ring. More often, an engagement ring is given as a conditional gift in contemplation of marriage. If that is the case, then it depends what state you are in.
In the growing majority of states, when an engagement ring is given as a conditional gift in contemplation of marriage and the couple does not get married, the person who gave the ring is entitled to get the ring back. In this growing majority of states, which includes New York, this is true no matter who is at fault for the break up. The reason for this is largely based on the fact that these courts have no desire to walk through a couple's emotional field of weeds in order to determine who caused the break up.
However, there are still some states who base their decision on who is at fault for the dissolution of the relationship. In those states if a person gives another an engagement ring conditioned on getting married, but then changes their mind and gives their heart to another, the faithful recipient would be entitled to keep the ring as a would be "consolation prize."
So if your one of the estimated millions of people getting ready to propose this Valentine's Day, you would be well served to make sure you are certain that your partner is your one and only and that the feeling is mutual.
Long Island Lawyer
Paul A. Lauto