Whos Entitled To The Ring When Engagement Broken Off
It’s common knowledge that more than fifty-percent of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. While I couldn’t find any official statistics on the number of engagements that get broken off before marriage, I know from handling several cases that like a broken marriage, a broken engagement often pits the former fiancés against each other, particularly over who owns the engagement ring.
In Florida the law is pretty straightforward that one who gives an engagement ring is entitled to recover the ring if the engagement is terminated by the donee (e.g., woman) or by mutual consent of the parties, based on the principle that the ring is conditioned on the woman going through with the marriage upon acceptance of the ring. See Gill v. Shively, 320 So. 2d 415 (Fla. 4th DCA 1975). The issue gets more complicated, however, if the donor (e.g., man) breaks off the engagement, or if the ring is given on a Holiday such as Christmas or Valentine’s Day. In these latter scenarios the woman could make out a plausible case that the ring was intended to be a gift and not necessarily premised on the condition of marriage.
Recently, the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal in Bobyack v. Larsonwas asked to address this issue. There, Tammy and her three children moved in with Andrew, who was apparently a very wealthy individual. In December, after Tammy and the kids had moved in, Andrew bought Tammy a 6.71 carat diamond ring which he told her was both a Christmas present and an engagement ring. After they started living together Tammy learned that Andrew had a problem. The Court doesn’t explain what the problem was but one can read between the lines that it related to drugs and/or alcohol. Tammy told Andrew that she would not marry him unless he got treatment for his problem. Andrew did not take this ultimatum very well and – according to Tammy – told her that he no longer wanted to marry her. Two days later, law enforcement was called and Andrew was arrested for domestic battery. The next month he filed a complaint against Tammy seeking return of the engagement ring. At some point during his lawsuit against Tammy for return of the ring Andrew moved for summary judgment. The trial court sided with him and ordered Tammy to return the ring. The trial court found that the ring was not a gift as Tammy had claimed, and that based on the long-standing legal precedent that the giving of an engagement ring is conditioned on whether the marriage occurs, it didn’t matter who broke off the engagement. The Fourth District reversed the trial judge and held that because Tammy had claimed that she did not break off the marriage, but only sought to postpone it until Andrew got treatment, a genuine issue of material fact as to who broke off the engagement, thus precluding entry of summary judgment in Andrew’s favor.
The upshot of the Fourth District’s holding is that where there is some evidence that the donor of the engagement ring broke off the engagement, a genuine issue of material fact is raised which will allow the case to proceed to a full trial on the merits. Thus, contrary to the trial court’s ruling, in a suit to recover an engagement ring it does matter who breaks off the engagement. I’ve got my money on Tammy in this one!