Ask a Lawyer – “My engagement fell through. Can I sue to get the engagement ring back?”

Traditionally, engagements gave rise to various legal – not just social or moral – obligations. For example, a woman could sue her faithless fiancé and obtain money damages for her injured feelings and mental distress resultant from his breach of the promise to marry. No equivalent cause of action was available to a man, though. The cause of action for the breach of promise to marry has been abolished in several Canadian provinces, and while it is technically still on the books in New Brunswick, recent judicial pronouncements suggest such a suit would have slim chances of success.

Historically, the question of who gets to keep the engagement ring was tied to the question of fault. If the man was the one to end the engagement, the woman had the right to keep the ring, but if the woman ended the engagement, the ring had to be returned. That is no longer the case today. It no longer matters who ended the engagement or what are the genders of the giver and the recipient of the ring. The decisive question is: was the ring a conditional, or an unconditional gift? Was the ring really given in contemplation – and on the condition – of the marriage taking place? Or was it simply a gift, with no strings attached, given simply on an occasion of the engagement? The intentions of the partiers in the particular case at hand are key.

In short, it is certainly possible (thought not guaranteed) to recover the engagement ring if the engagement falls through. If you are facing this or any other legal issue, please contact us.

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