What happens to the engagement ring if the marriage is called off ?

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.

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How long does it take to get divorced in Pennsylvania ? – It depends

How long does it take to get divorced in Pennsylvania? Unfortunately, there are no easy or common answers. It depends upon a number of factors. Perhaps as much as than any other area of law, divorce and family law cases are factually different from one another. Here below is a non-exhaustive and very basic, extremely short list of factors and reasons that commonly impact the total elapsed time between filing a divorce complaint in Pennsylvania, to the entry of a divorce decree.

Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.
Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.

a) Filing for a Mutual Consent, No Fault Divorce – If your circumstances allow, Pennsylvania has a 90 day waiting period from the commencement of the divorce action for uncontested (mutual consent), no fault divorce, without any other economic issues. Economic issues between the parties can slow the divorce process down. The 90 day waiting period acts as a “cooling off” period. Depending on the county where you file, the particular judge, the potential backlog, etc., the time it takes the court to enter a divorce decree is usually 4 to 6 months for a mutual consent, no fault divorce without economic issues. Note: Do not plan to get remarried until you have a divorce decree in hand. Things can and do get delayed.

b) Filing for divorce under Irretrievable Breakdown of the marriage section of the divorce code now requires that the parties live separate and apart for at least one year. What is an “irretrievable breakdown”? Pennsylvania law defines it as “estrangement due to marital difficulties with no reasonable prospect of reconciliation”. If this sounds like your situation, you will need to live separate and apart for at least two years and the defendant agrees that the marriage is over. Note: you certainly can, and some people do “live separate and apart” under the same roof for all or part of the one year waiting period while they wait to obtain money to purchase a new home, or for other reasons. If one of the parties wants to try to reconcile, the court can order up to three counseling sessions. Note: In 2016 the Pennsylvania law reduced the “living separate and apart” requirement from two years to one year.

c) Extensive marital assets that need to be valued prior to being divided can slow down your divorce. Homes, businesses, pension plans, retirement plans, stock options, artwork, etc., etc. In some cases the parties disagree on the method used to value the asset and this can cause significant additional expense and delay.

d) Marital assets that for one reason or another are “missing” or misappropriated.

e) Backlog in the system, or one side is not adequately prepared to move forward when they should to be. This may include one party having an attorney while the other is without an attorney (known as a pro se party).

f) One of the parties cannot be located.

g) If the parties agree to use binding arbitration, the collaborative divorce process or mediation to settle economic issues they cannot otherwise settle, this can usually move the process along much more quickly than traditional litigation. Drawback:  alternate dispute resolution methods can still be expensive, but not as expensive as litigation.

h) One of the parties truly cannot see the forest from the trees and decides to “scorch the earth” (sometimes with cooperation from their counsel or on advice from others) on every point, no matter how minor. This may include refusing to negotiate a reasonable  marital settlement agreement, demanding all aspects of the case be litigated, being unresponsive to discovery requests, deciding that “having their day in court” must occur despite great expense and lack of any guaranteed result.

i) One of the parties mistakenly believes that seeking revenge via the divorce process is somehow better than getting on with their life. This can be a mental health issue that may be helped with coaching, counseling and the like.

These are just a few of the many issues that can arise and impact how long your divorce process takes. As you and your attorney navigate the legal landscape during a Pennsylvania divorce, stay focused on the end game. Less conflict means things move more quickly and usually with less cost to the parties. A skilled family law attorney will be able to keep your matter moving swiftly to a successful conclusion, while keeping you informed of the process.

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Providing money to your child for the down payment of a house – is it a gift or a loan?

It is somewhat common for a parent to provide funds to their child for use as a down payment on a marital home. The amount is often substantial. Depending on the facts surrounding the transfer of funds, it may be a good idea to document whether the funds are a gift or whether the funds are a loan.

Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.
Providing your married children with funds to purchase a home is fairly common. It may be helpful to think about whether the funds will be viewed as a gift or viewed as a loan in the event your child is faced with divorce.

Why is this important?

If the funds are a gift to your child, and the funds are not traceable and/or commingled with marital funds, then used to purchase a marital residence, the funds become a marital asset, subject to equitable distribution in the event of a divorce. This is usually the position of the spouse of the donee. If your position is that the down payment funds were given as a gift, it would be helpful to produce the gift letter and perhaps a copy of the check that the donor signed.

If the funds are a loan, the loan must be repaid. If the house is sold due to divorce, or the title of the house is transferred due to divorce, you may be entitled to have the loan repaid from the proceeds of the sale or transfer. This is usually the position of the child of the creditor parent making the loan. If your position is that the funds were a loan, and therefore must be repaid, it would be helpful to produce an amortization or payment schedule, a promissory note showing the rate of interest charged, and proof of at least some repayment.

This post is simply to have you think about two of the many options you may have when providing a significant amount of funds to your married children.

No two family law matters are exactly alike. Nothing on this family law blog should be considered or used as legal advice. Nothing can replace consulting an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction, regarding your particular family law matter.

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The importance of maintaining good mental health and good physical health during divorce

Take care of yourself. Maintaining good mental health is one key element in being able to think clearly and logically during divorce. Maintaining good physical health, including getting enough exercise, will benefit you during divorce and beyond.

Research confirms that one of the most difficult issues you can face in life is going through a divorce. No two people will have the same exact response to the stress caused by a life changing event.  Your world may be turned upside down during divorce. Emotions may run wild. You are in unfamiliar territory. It is easy to feel out of control. You are not alone. This is common.

Think Logically
Having the ability to think logically will be a great benefit as you manage the stress of divorce.

Your ability to think clearly and logically will be two important assets for you during divorce. Maintaining good mental health may help you think more logically when you are under the tremendous stress that divorce can cause. 

While no two family law cases are exactly alike, there is a very good chance you will be called upon to make many choices during the divorce process. If you are working with a lawyer, he or she will set the legal strategy, do the legal work, explain the divorce process and the law, negotiate on your behalf,  keep you updated,  and answer your questions and concerns. Remember this fact: your lawyer works for you. It’s your case and ultimately, it is your life and future. Your lawyer will help guide you through the divorce process, and zealously advocate your position, within the law and within the rules of professional conduct. The more clearly and logically you can think, the better you will be able to evaluate what is happening around you and then make good choices with input from your lawyer. Thinking clearly and logically is not always easy during stressful and emotional times, but if you take the time to focus on your own well being, it can make the divorce process easier.

There are abundant mental health resources  available for people going through divorce. If you need assistance, be assured, you are not alone and help is available. 

Mental health professionals, support groups, and counselors are available to help you through the process of divorce. Some are trained to deal with divorce related issues. There are also books, webinars, and other media available to help you maintain your perspective and ability to think logically during what can be a very stressful time. It usually makes sense to use all the tools available to you to deal with the stress that can accompany divorce and allow the healing process to begin.

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