What happens to an engagement ring following a breakup depends, as with most issues in North Carolina Family Law, on the circumstances. This issue can be divided into 2 distinct categories--who gets the engagement ring when the marriage does not take place, and who keeps the engagement ring in the event of a divorce. The issue of who keeps an engagement ring when the marriage does not occur is not codified in state law, nor has it been addressed by our North Carolina appellate courts.
However, basic contract law states an engagement ring is often considered a conditional gift, contingent upon the parties actually marrying one another. If the parties marry, the ring rightfully belongs to the person who received it as a gift. However, if the parties do not marry, then the party who gave the ring is entitled to have the ring back. Since there is no North Carolina case which specifically addresses how to handle the gifting of engagement rings, there are unanswered questions about who gets the engagement ring if the parties do not marry. For example, should the person gifting the ring be entitled to receive it back if they are the ones who call off the wedding? Or should the person receiving the ring be entitled to keep it if the marriage is called off because they were caught cheating?
Other states have found when the condition of marriage is not met, the person giving the ring is entitled to have the ring back regardless of the circumstances. However, some states have distinguished if the marriage didn’t occur due to the donor’s bad faith such as being unfaithful, then the party who received the ring should be entitled to keep the ring. Because North Carolina hasn’t ruled one way or the other, it’s possible that a party in North Carolina could argue either side if such a situation arose. If the parties do, in fact, marry, there tends to be a presumption the engagement ring is a spouse’s separate property.
If the parties were to later divorce, under Equitable Distribution, the engagement ring would likely be categorized as the separate property of the person who received it. The parties could certainly agree the ring, or a certain part of it such as the diamond, be returned to the person who gifted it. If an engagement ring is a family heirloom, a Pre-Marital Agreement can dictate what happens to the ring or portions of it in the event of separation and divorce.
If you have a question about your engagement ring or any other North Carolina Family Law issues, please call our office today at 704-810-1400 to schedule a consultation with one of our Charlotte divorce lawyers.