Following a proposal, there is excitement, joy, happiness… and after all the elation and congratulatory wishes, there are cases where reality hits, things go awry, and the wedding plans are called off. It’s an all too common scenario, with the divorce rates in this country exceeding the 50% mark. Many financial and legal issues may arise depending on where the couple was in the wedding planning process, but one issue is universal: If an engagement is called off, who gets to keep the ring?
While not all engagement rings may carry the same astronomical price tag as a certain 15-carat sparkler we hear about in the mainstream media, it is worth knowing your rights when it comes to a potentially valuable asset. In Illinois, there are many legal principles which can be applied in cases involving broken engagements. However, the Breach of Promise Act, 740 ILCS § 15/1-10, is the only statutory authority existing to address such topics. It governs the enforcement of actions based upon breaches of promises or agreements to marry in order to avoid abuse or unjust enrichment due to the indefiniteness of the amount of damages recoverable in such actions.
Illinois case law is more relevant in determining the specific issue of ownership of the engagement ring. In a mutually broken engagement, the majority of courts in Illinois follow the reasoning that the engagement ring is considered a conditional gift; the condition being the subsequent marriage of the parties. It is a token given in contemplation of marriage, and the gift vests upon the union of the parties. As such, if the condition is not fulfilled, the gift should be returned to the donor of the ring, as the recipient no longer has a valid interest in it. (See Vann v. Vehrs, 260 Ill.App.3d 649 (2d Dist. 1994)).
In other cases, where the broken engagement is allegedly caused by one party’s actions, Illinois courts may take a different approach in deciding the issue of ownership of the engagement ring. Using a fault-based method of determining ownership, the court would likely look at factors and evidence as to the reasons for the break-up and the at-fault party’s acts in determining which party should walk away from the engagement with the ring.
It is important to note that many other facts can come into play to justify a party keeping the ring. As with many other aspects of the law, this is an issue that is fact specific and decided on a case by case basis. You may also have options in proactively protecting your assets with a prenuptial agreement or other form of property division agreement. In order to be fully informed of your rights in your particular situation, it is best to contact an Illinois attorney competent in this area of law. The attorneys at Sullivan, Taylor & Gumina, P.C., care about safeguarding your assets. Contact us today to discuss how we can assist you in protecting your interests.