Calling off an engagement can be a very painful and emotional experience and unfortunately, the last thing that you want to talk about is who keeps the engagement ring.
In Papathanasopoulos v Vacopoulos  NSWSC 502, his Honour Justice Smart found that if a woman refuses without legal justification to marry her fiancé, she cannot keep the engagement ring and must return it.
The $15,250.00 engagement ring in the above case was given to Ms Papathanasopoulos on the condition that she would marry Mr Vacopoulos however Ms Papathanasopoulos called off the engagement (and wedding) with words to the effect “the wedding is off, here take the ring, I don’t want it.” Ms Papathanasopoulos then proceeded to remove the engagement ring and put it on the coffee table in front of where Mr Vacopoulos was sitting to which he responded with words to this effect, “I do not want the ring it is a gift for you, you can keep it.” Following this discussion, Ms Papathanasopoulos asked her father to dispose of the valuable ring in the garbage, which according to the evidence of Ms Papathanasopoulos, he did.
His Honour considered the Local Court case, and specifically a submission of the learned Magistrate, “The contract for want of a better word is rejected very shortly after it’s made and the consideration being the engagement ring ought to have been returned. It’s not a question of saying ‘Well he has to come and pick it up’. It’s something that was given as a symbol, if nothing else, of the expected ongoing relationship between the parties. If she was rejecting him, then that quite plainly should have been returned”.
In Cohen v Sellar (1926) 1 KB 536, his Honour Justice McCardie made the following remarks:
(a) If a woman who has received a ring in contemplation of marriage refuses to fulfil the conditions of the gift she must return it.
(b) If a man has, without a recognised legal justification, refused to carry out his promise of marriage, he cannot demand the return of the engagement ring.
(c) It matters not in law that the repudiation of the promise may turn out to the ultimate advantage of both parties. A judge must apply the existing law as to the limits of justification for breach.
(d) If the engagement to marry be dissolved by mutual consent, then in the absence of agreement to the contrary, the engagement ring and like gifts must be returned by each party to the other.
The engagement ring is considered to be a ‘conditional gift’ and until such time as the condition is met, it must be returned to the person who broke off the engagement unless for legal justification. A conditional gift is one where the giver gives the gift to the receiver with the expectation that some future event or action will take place. If the agreed-upon event does not occur or the agreed-upon condition is not met, then the gift-giver has the right to get the gift back.
We welcome any enquiries or comments in relation to these issues. Please contact our Family Law and Wills and Estates Department Manager, Donna Tolley on direct line 07 5506 8241, email firstname.lastname@example.org or free call 1800 621 071.
We have a dedicated family law team that practice exclusively in this complicated area.