Cut, clarity, carat, color, certification (and sometimes the 6th “C” word: cost). If you’ve ever thought about proposing to your sweetheart, then you’ll quickly learn the “C’s” of engagement-ring shopping. Yet, there’s another “C” that some people battle with when it comes to this beloved item: custody. When a relationship doesn’t work out, who keeps the ring?
This is a question that lawyers are faced with often, and the answer is not so “clear cut.”
Florida courts were faced with the question of the engagement ring for the first time 40 years ago in the case of Gill v. Shively, 320 So. 2d 415 (4th DCA 1975). The couple had not yet married when their relationship broke down, and the giver of the ring, Mr. Gill, wanted his former fiancé, Ms. Shively, to give him the ring back.
Florida courts had never been presented with this issue before. So, there were no other similar Florida cases that the court could look to for guidance. As a result, the court looked to the law of other states for some assistance.
In its research, the court saw that, in some other states, the law allows the giver of the ring to take it back if the engagement is terminated by either the recipient of the ring or by mutual consent of both parties. So, under the facts of Mr. Gill’s particular case, the court ruled that he was allowed to take back the engagement ring.
The law in Florida today still follows this 1975 ruling. If the engagement ring was given as a condition of a marriage, and the couple never married, the recipient should return it because the condition was never met. However, if the couple did marry, and they are now divorcing, the engagement ring is non-marital property that belongs to the recipient, and he/she gets to keep it in the divorce. See Melvik v. Melvik, 669 So. 2d 328 (Fla. 4th DCA 1996); Greenberg v. Greenberg, 698 So. 2d 938 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997); Rosen v. Rosen, 738 So. 2d 474 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999); Malone v. Malone, 929 So. 2d 541 (Fla. 1st DCA 2006).
Some ring-givers have tried to carve out specific exceptions to this general rule. In Randall v. Randall, 56 So. 3d 817 (Fla. 2d DCA 2011), Mr. and Mrs. Randall actually married. However, Mr. Randall argued that the ring should be returned to him because it was a family heirloom. The court, unfortunately, did not agree, and the general rule remained firm.
It may appear that the law in Florida regarding engagement rings is well defined, and it is, when it comes to the scenarios discussed above. But there appears to be some “wiggle room” that hasn’t been fully explored yet.
Suppose you propose to your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day, and you give him/her the ring as a Valentine’s Day gift/engagement ring (perhaps you wanted to kill two birds with one stone). Was the ring truly a condition of the marriage? Or was it a general Valentine’s Day gift, regardless of whether the marriage goes through? Under those circumstances, the court may find that it was a gratuitous gift and that the recipient of the ring should keep it, even if the condition (marriage) was never met.
Also, the Gill court addressed what should happen if the recipient of the ring terminates the engagement, or if the couple mutually agrees to terminate it. But what if the giver of the ring terminates it? Or what if the giver of the ring does something inappropriate that makes the recipient end it (e.g., infidelity or fraud)? Should he/she be entitled to take the ring back when the engagement ended because of him/her?
There may also be questions of fact on whether the recipient actually terminated the engagement or whether he/she merely postponed it. Going back to the Gill case: What if Ms. Shively had told Mr. Gill that she didn’t want to get married right now, but that she wanted to take a break from the relationship before deciding? Is that an actual termination of the engagement? Should she be able to keep the engagement ring while she decides? And if so, for how long?
These could all be somewhat open questions that the court may look at differently, if anyone ever presents them. To date, no one has. Perhaps Florida courts will give us some “clarity” on these unsettled questions in the future.
The information and materials on this blog are provided for general informational purposes only and are not intended to be legal advice. The law changes frequently, and it varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Being general in nature, the information and materials provided may not apply to any specific factual and/or legal set of circumstances. No attorney-client relationship is formed by this blog post nor should any such relationship be implied. Nothing on this blog is intended to substitute for the advice of an attorney, especially an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.