Mon | Mar 27, 2023

Response to 'Ring of fire'

Published:Tuesday | February 2, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Dear Counsellor,

The advice and comments in last week's column drew my attention.

The writer's concern is whether she is bound to return an engagement ring when a relationship with a former fiancé has ended. To me, this is a legal question that needed a legal answer, preferably from an attorney. The question of ownership of an engagement ring is not as straightforward as your response indicated. You wrote:

"Since the 'engagement' is off, you should have returned the ring. It is not enough to say it was a birthday gift."

United States (US) and United Kingdom law interpret ownership of an engagement ring in different ways. Indeed, different states in the US have different interpretations.

Cultural differences

In some courts/jurisdictions, the ring (or its value) belongs to the fiancé unless his actions caused the break up ('fault'), and others say the ring belongs to him, no matter the circumstances of the break up ('no-fault'). In other courts/jurisdictions, the ring is an unconditional gift unless the fiancé had stipulated conditions at the time the ring was given, so (without prior agreement to the contrary) the fiancé can keep the ring even if the relationship ends. Still another approach says the woman can keep the ring if it was given to her at a time when gifts are normally given - Christmas Day, Valentine's Day, or birthday. I noted that the person who wrote you for advice had received the ring on her birthday.

The moral judgments in this column further detracted from the substance of the advice, as motives and character were ascribed to the writer and her fiancé without any clear basis or rationale for the assumptions.

Ownership of the ring is a legal matter, and it may help your readers to provide the legal position in a future column, so as to correct erroneous impressions that may have been created. The law of engagement rings is known to be complicated. Please note a couple of websites on this topic:

In addition, the Jamaican courts may have their own interpretation of who is entitled to an engagement ring when marriage does not take place.

All the best,

Yvonne McCalla Sobers