A Greenville family law attorney is no stranger to heated property disputes between spouses. But if two people call off a wedding, a different argument often arises: who gets the engagement ring? It’s more than a minor disagreement, considering the thousands of dollars Americans spend on rings. In many cases there’s an added layer of emotion because the piece of jewelry is a family heirloom.
South Carolina directly answered this question in a 2012 Court of Appeals case, Campbell v. Robinson. Here are the basics of what happened in the case. Campbell, the would-be groom, proposed to Robinson, the would-be bride. Of course, as part of that proposal, Campbell gave Robinson an engagement ring. Robinson accepted the proposal of marriage and plans were put in motion for a wedding. Those plans fell through and the two argued over who should keep the ring.
Robinson refused to give the ring back to Campbell. She argued that when the engagement ended, the nature of the ring changed. To her, the piece of jewelry essentially became a simple gift – and simple gifts need not be returned.
You may be thinking, who is to blame for the wedding being canceled? And shouldn’t that make a difference? In many states, marital fault does indeed matter. But the South Carolina Court of Appeals plainly declared, “fault does not determine ownership of the ring.” Courts in Greenville, SC won’t take into consideration whether the bride-to-be or groom-to-be called it quits. Rather, the following standard was adopted in Campbell v. Robinson:
“An engagement ring by its very nature is a symbol of a donor’s continuing devotion to the donee. Once an engagement is cancelled, the ring no longer holds that significance…Thus, if a party presents evidence a ring was given in contemplation of marriage, the ring is an engagement ring. As an engagement ring, the gift is in impliedly conditioned upon the marriage taking place. Until the condition underlying the gift is fulfilled, the attempted gift is unenforceable and must be returned to the donor upon the donor’s request.”
The Court first considered the nature of the ring itself, noting its unavoidable connection to engagement. This has significance for recipients who wish to keep the ring, which will be further addressed below. In defining the engagement ring – “given in contemplation of marriage” – the Court imposed a condition. Therefore the engagement ring is a conditional, not a simple, gift. If the condition (marriage) is not met, there is no gift and the ring must be given back.
A Greenville family law attorney can help with connecting the ring to the engagement, which is an important part of the analysis. It provides a possible opening for anyone in Greenville, SC who wants to keep the ring he or she received. Hypothetically, a would-be bride can argue that the ring was an absolute gift, not conditioned on marriage. Perhaps the would-be groom said something to this effect. Or the would-be groom might have given the ring for a Valentine’s Day gift, and proposed at a later date. If the ring is not “given in contemplation of marriage,” it’s not an engagement ring and need not be returned.
If a Ring is in Dispute, Contact a Greenville Family Law Attorney
If a wedding gets called off, social custom dictates that the ring goes back to the giver. But not everyone in Greenville, SC follows this tradition. Whether you want to keep the ring, or you want it back, a valuable asset is at stake. The attorneys at Greenville Family Law are here to help resolve this dispute so everyone can move on. Give us a call today to speak with a Greenville family law attorney.