by Jonathan C. Noble, Esq. 3 minute read
State law will usually determine what happens to an engagement ring if the marriage is called off.
Under current Pennsylvania law, an engagement ring is a conditional gift based on the promise to marry. Up until the marriage actually takes place, the ring remains property of the purchaser or donor. Once the marriage takes place, the engagement ring becomes a separate asset of the recipient.
What happens if the purchaser breaks off the engagement?
Under Pennsylvania law, if the purchaser breaks off the engagement, the engagement ring still remains their property. In Pennsylvania, it is the same result no matter who broke off the engagement. Even if the recipient of the ring was ready, willing and able to marry (even standing at the altar, in wedding attire, holding the caterer’s bill) and the donor refuses to get married, the donor is still entitled to return of the ring (or it’s value). Pennsylvania takes a “no-fault” approach to the return of an engagement ring. Pennsylvania courts do not and cannot get involved with sifting through the debris of the broken engagement in order to ascertain who is truly at fault and if there lies a valid justification excusing fault. Other states may take a different approach to resolving engagement ring disputes.
This issue was decided by a split Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1999 in the case Lindh v. Surman, 742 A.2d 643 (1999).
Hopefully, the readers of my blog will never face this situation. Engagement ring disputes can and do happen more often than many people realize.