When “I Do” Becomes “Adieu” – What About The Ring?
Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson did it. So did Iggy Azalea and Nick Young. What do these couples have in common? They both called off their nuptials before the big day. When that happens, many people wonder if there can be legal fallout between the couple. While Delaware law previously recognized an action for the breach of an agreement to marry, that cause of action was abolished decades ago. An action remains, however, for the return of the ring. It is a replevin action requesting the return of personal property.
In Delaware, as in many other jurisdictions, the ring is a conditional gift. “The donor of the ring is entitled to its return where the engagement is mutually broken.” Machurek v. Wilson, C.A. No. 200612-467, Welsh, J. (Del. Com. Pl. Aug. 14, 2007). If the engagement isn’t mutually broken the analysis is more complex and the result may be different.
In Walton v. Snow, C.A. No. CPU4-13-000791, Rennie, J. (Del. Com. Pl. March 3, 2014), the Court sets forth the “fault approach.” “Under the fault-based analysis, return of the ring depends on an assessment of who broke the engagement, which necessarily entails a determination of why that person broke the engagement.” Id. at 10. (citations omitted). Under the fault approach, the recipient of the ring may retain it if the marriage does not take place, so long as he or she is not at fault. So, for example, if the bride-to-be calls off the wedding because she catches her beloved cheating on her, she gets to keep the ring under the fault approach. But, if she is the one caught cheating or otherwise at fault, she would need to return the ring. Determining whether one party can claim the other was at fault can be difficult, and proving fault can be even more so.
If you have a question about whether your breakup is fault or no-fault, you may want to confer with an attorney to understand your rights.