Massachusetts law about engagement rings

Cases and web sources on what happens to an engagement ring after a breakup.

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Table of Contents

Massachusetts laws

MGL c. 260, § 2A Tort, contract to recover for personal injuries, and replevin actions
"Except as otherwise provided, actions of tort, actions of contract to recover for personal injuries, and actions of replevin, shall be commenced only within three years next after the cause of action accrues." Replevin is an action seeking return of personal property wrongfully taken or held by the defendant.

Selected cases

Bowzer 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."

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."

Johnson v. Settino, 103 Mass. App. Ct. 291 (2023) 
"In a civil action brought in the Superior Court against the defendant, who was the plaintiff's former fiancée, after the plaintiff called off the parties' wedding and ended their engagement, seeking recovery of an engagement ring and two wedding bands that the plaintiff had purchased, this court reversed the judge's disposition awarding the engagement ring and one wedding band to the defendant based on the judge's conclusion that the defendant had not been at fault (in light of the judge's finding that the defendant had not been having a sexual affair), where, accepting the judge's subsidiary factual findings, this court concluded that the evidence was insufficient to sustain a finding that the plaintiff was at fault for the parties' separation, i.e., although the plaintiff may have largely been motivated by a mistaken belief, it could not be said that he was unjustified or did not have adequate cause to break the engagement under the circumstances presented, and accordingly, he was entitled to the return of the engagement ring and wedding band."

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's at fault when engagement ends? Appeals court considers issue in suit for return of $70K ring, by Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal, Sept. 2023.
Discussion of the 2023 Appeals Court decision Johnson v. Settino.

Who keeps the ring when an engagement is broken? by Alyssa Kelly, Esq., JDSupra, Oct. 2023.
Also discusses what happens to the ring if there is a divorce. This article is specific to Massachusetts.

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.

Contact for Massachusetts law about engagement rings

Last updated: December 13, 2023

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