Engagement rings are considered conditional gifts given in contemplation of marriage. When the engagement is broken off and the marriage does not take place, the one who gifted the ring is typically entitled to recover the ring. However, there are circumstances when that is not the case. Pursuant to the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Gill v. Shively, when the engagement is terminated by the donee or by mutual consent of the parties, the donor may recover the ring. See Gill v. Shively, 320 So. 2d 415, 416 (Fla. 4th DCA 1975). If the donee refuses to return the ring, the donor may then pursue an action for replevin or sue the donee for the value of the ring in the event the donee has sold the ring or has otherwise disposed of it.
However, if it is the donor who ends the engagement, then the donee is entitled to keep the ring. When an engagement ring is given on a holiday, the ring is generally treated as an unconditional gift that the donee may keep, even if it is the donee who breaks off the engagement, as gifts do not have to be returned.
Additionally, when the parties are going through a divorce, the donee also gets to keep the engagement ring. This time, the donee gets to keep the engagement ring as a premarital gift. See Greenberg v. Greenberg, 698 So. 2d 938 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997). The engagement ring is not included as a marital asset and does not become part of the equitable distribution scheme. An agreement between the parties, such as a premarital agreement, can provide for a different disposition of the engagement ring. For example, if the ring was a family heirloom, parties can agree that the engagement ring would be returned to the husband (the donor) should the parties divorce. Otherwise, in the absence of an agreement between the parties, an engagement ring is considered to be the wife’s (donee’s) non-marital property. See Randall v. Randall, 56 So. 3d 817 (Fla. 2d DCA 2011) (the general rule is that an engagement ring is non-marital property and it is error for a trial court to consider the wife’s premarital property, such as her engagement and wedding rings, which are gifts to the wife, in the equitable distribution scheme) (internal citations omitted).
What if rather than have a party call off the engagement or file for divorce, a party dies? In this scenario, the timing of death controls the disposition of the engagement ring. In other words, did the party die prior to the wedding or after the wedding? If a party dies prior to the wedding, the ring is typically returned to the donor or donor’s estate. However, if one of the parties dies after the marriage takes place, then the donee or the donee’s estate gets to keep the engagement ring.
Consequently, there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer when it comes to determining the ownership of an engagement ring.