Massachusetts law about engagement rings

A compilation of cases and web sources on what happens to an engagement ring after a breakup.

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Table of Contents

Selected case law

De Cicco v. Barker, 339 Mass. 457 (1959)
"It is generally held that an engagement ring is in the nature of a pledge, given on the implied condition that the marriage shall take place. If the contract to marry is terminated without fault on the part of the donor he may recover the ring."

Bowser v. Daly, 2006 Mass. Super. LEXIS 532, 2006 WL 3293414 (Middlesex Superior Court)
“The Court concludes that the ring was not intended to be an ‘unconditional gift,’ but was given in contemplation of marriage or of at least a permanent romantic relationship . . . While both engaged in a heated altercation ..., it was undisputed that it was she who struck him, and the Court finds that this blow, rather than anything that he did, was the precipitating cause of their break-up. In these instances, he is entitled to have the ring returned."

Poirier v. Raad, 1995 Mass. Super. LEXIS 843, 3 Mass. Law Reporter 265 (Worcester Superior Court)
"The person who terminates an engagement is not necessarily 'at fault.' Some engagements may be terminated by mutual agreement. Some engagements may be terminated by one party because of the other party's improper behavior…" In this case, a Superior Court Judge denies a woman’s motion to keep the engagement ring because her husband successfully argued that while he terminated the engagement, he was not ‘at fault.’ ”

Web sources

Engagement rings, Mass. Legal Help, 2019.
Briefly discusses who gets the ring both when a couple doesn't marry and after they do.

Returning an engagement ring, Nolo.com.
Discusses the issue of engagement rings nationally.

What happens to the engagement ring in a broken engagement?, Findlaw.
Explains the 3 ways courts across the country may treat an engagement ring.

Who gets the engagement ring when the wedding is called off?, Alan Pransky, Esq., March 2013.
Also discusses what happens to the ring if there is a divorce.

Print sources

Cause of action for recovery of gift given in contemplation of marriage, 63 Causes of Action 2d 587 (2014 with 2022 update).
 

Massachusetts Practice

Rights in respect of engagement and courtship presents when marriage does not ensue, 44 ALR 5th 1 (1996 with 2021 update).

A treatise on the law of contracts, 4th ed. West Group, with supplement. Section 62:28 Engagement rings and gifts.

Tushnet, Rebecca, “Note: Rules of Engagement”, 107 Yale L.J. 2583, (1998).
A history of the legal theories used regarding returning engagement rings, including “conditional gift” theories, and fault and no-fault principles. She looks at premarital law through the lens of how it may treat men and women differently.

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Last updated: October 14, 2022
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