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Who keeps the engagement ring after a breakup? 2 law professors explain why you might want a marriage contract for your diamond


When Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck first got engaged, in 2002, he gave her a very expensive ring. That engagement ring was reportedly worth a whopping $2.5 millionmade by luxury jeweler Harry Winston and adorned with a 6.1 carat pink diamond.

After the movie stars broke up in 2004 without getting married, J. Lo said she intended to return the ring “quietto Affleck. Or she ever did or notdid Lopez have a right to keep that rock or any of the others she got from her numerous ex-spouses and former fiancées?

The answer could be of interest to anyone who is engaged or married – or even thinking about getting married. No one knows for sure how many engagements end in breakups, although there are estimates that it’s about that 1 in 5 do.

If law professors who teach property And family law, we regularly talk to students – and our own family members – about gifting and marriage. Students often ask us who owns the engagement ring when couples don’t get married or eventually get divorced. They also want to know what happens if the ring is stolen.

While taxes, laws, and insurance aren’t very sexy topics, marriage was never just about romance. It is also a partnership with economic consequences.

Rare for the 20th century

Engagement rings were quite rare until about 100 years ago, even though the first diamond engagement ring was apparently donated by Emperor Maximilian to Mary of Burgundy in 1377. But it wasn’t until the end of the Great Depression that a sophisticated advertising campaign created a market for diamond engagement rings in the United States.

by 1940, 10% of brides received diamond rings. That share rose to 80% in 1990.

Perhaps propelled by the belief that a ring should cost as much as a man earns in three monthsexpensive diamond engagement rings became increasingly popular between 1935 and 1965.

No refuge for rejected grooms

Law professor Margaret Brinig has found that legal changes coincided with the new customs around the middle of the 20th century.

Specifically, Brinig points to the elimination of the lawsuits known as “breach of promise“actions, which can be filed after broken engagements.

That is, brides could keep rings – even expensive ones – without getting married.

This new convention, Brinig wrote, could have served as a form of compensation if the bride had lost her virginity after getting engaged. If the marriage didn’t happen, at least she would have something valuable to hold on to.

Are they arguing over who gets to keep the ring?
Peter Dazeley/The Image Bank via Getty Images

Obligations without debt?

In the second half of the 20th century, US divorce laws and courts changed stopped determining who was to blame when couples broke up. In what became known as no-fault divorceneither spouse had to prove that the other had cheated or been cruel to them.

And, like law professor Rebecca Tushnet documents, many courts have applied a similar “no-fault” framework to broken engagements. That’s what it means doesn’t matter who broke it downor why.

In addressing that rule in 1997three judges of a higher court in Pennsylvania based themselves on the story of Adam and Eve, wandered into Roman times, and then announced that “the gift of the ring to (the bride) at the time of their betrothal was subject to an implied condition requiring its return if the marriage fell through.”

And that was in a case where a man who had proposed to his girlfriend, canceled the engagement twice.

Courts inside Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi and other states have made similar statements.

Different states, different interests

But the Montana Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that an ex-fiancé could keep her engagement ring after a breakup. The court noted that women “often still shoulder most of the pre-marital expenses”, and raised concerns that treating engagement rings as gifts contingent on marriage could perpetuate gender bias.

And a court in Texas ruled a year later that someone who gave an engagement ring to his betrothed and later canceled the wedding was not entitled to a refund.

In California, a state law enacted in 1939 provides for this that the ring must be returned if the marriage is broken by mutual consent or if the person who received an engagement ring initiates the break.

Regardless of where you live, if you are required by law to return an engagement ring and fail to do so, you could be at risk for monetary damage. This can lead to financial problems when rings are lost, stolen or stolen intentionally thrown away.

Tax consequences

If one person keeps the ring after a breakup, it may be gift tax consequences for the person who bought the ring. But that’s only if the ring costs more than $17,000, and there are a many variables and loopholes that can reduce the chance that a rejected ex will ever owe money to the Internal Revenue Service.

Anyone can make presents worth up to $17,000 per year, from 2023, to someone else without any consequences. Gifts above that threshold are officially subject to gift tax, and required by the tax authorities That reporting taxpayers the amount of those donations per year.

From 2023, taxpayers will also be allowed to give away gifts in total $12.92 million throughout their lives, or after death in their will, without tax consequences.

But gifts of $17,000 or more will eat into that credit.

Plan ahead

Anyone who gets engaged can insure a ring.

And while no reader should view this article as a source of personal legal advice, we note that engaged couples can set their own rules. Courts will generally enforce written agreements reached between two people who intend to get married, stipulating who gets the ring after a breakup.

Couples can draw up or sign a ring-related contract, especially if that piece of jewelry has great sentimental or monetary value.

We understand that such paperwork may not be realized in a time of bended knees and joyous celebrations. We also understand that what people do with their rings when an engagement is called off is not just a matter of what the law requires.

Few such lawsuits

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we’ve found relatively few cases where someone has sued an ex over this issue.

Not even Ben Affleck did that. If he had tried to sue J. Lo in a California court in 2004, he might have won. But his success would depend on how the engagement ended.

Besides, as you may have heard, the high-profile couple reunite in 2021 and married in 2022.

The second engagement ring Affleck reportedly gave Lopez $5 million worth – probably double that of the first. J. Lo can keep that huge, rare green diamond forever now that she says it’s hot Mrs. Jennifer Lynne Affleck.

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