The Engagement is Over, But What Happens to the Ring?

Written on behalf of Arbesman Hamilton LLP

A recent Small Claims Court decision from Nova Scotia addresses a question commonly asked by engaged couples who break up before the wedding: who gets to keep the ring?

What Happened?

Devin Sherrington and Lauren Arbuckle were planning their wedding when arguments over how much they should spend on the event led to Sherrington suggesting that the wedding be postponed. Rather than agreeing to the postpone the wedding, Arbuckle ended the relationship.

The couple eventually found themselves in the Small Claims Court of Nova Scotia fighting over who had the right to the ring after their breakup. Sherrington argued that the 3.25 carat ring was a conditional gift, and when Arbuckle broke up with him, he should get that gift back.

Historical Precedents

Canadian decisions surrounding ownership of engagement rings go back as far as 1917 where a decision in Jacobs v. Davis, [1917] 2 K.B. stated:

Though the origin of the engagement ring has been forgotten, it still retains its character of a pledge or something to bind the bargain or contract to marry, and it is given on the understanding that a party who breaks the contract must return it. Whether the ring is a pledge or a conditional gift, the result is the same. The engagement ring given by the plaintiff to the defendant was given upon the implied condition that it should be returned if the defendant” (i.e., the lady) “broke off the engagement. She did break the contract, and therefore must return the ring.

110 years Later, the Test Remains the Same

The Adjudicator noted that while many elements of marriage are different today than they were in 1917, the test of who owns an engagement ring has stood the test of time. As such, the case would have to be determined by deciding whether Sherrington’s postponement of the wedding was really just a postponement or if it was tantamount to a cancellation.

The Adjudicator found Sherrington made the unilateral decision to postpone the wedding, and Arbuckle made the unilateral decision to end their relationship, but only after trying to propose new wedding dates. However, Sherrington would not agree to set a new date. In addition, after the engagement was over, Sherrington texted Arbuckle, writing, “Do you want to just keep your ring?” and followed up with “It’s up to u”. Arbuckle responded, “I would like to yes. Is that ok?” Sherrington replied, “Sure it’s up to u. If I need money later (we) can always do something with that.”

Ultimately, the Adjudicator ruled that Arbuckle was entitled to keep the ring, writing

In my view, as of April 22, 2016, the ring belonged exclusively and unconditionally to Lauren Arbuckle, regardless of who broke off the engagement. As noted further, I find there was no agreement that it be pledged as collateral.

Separation can be a confusing and stressful time. In addition to the emotional weight of a separation, careful consideration needs to be given to the division of property. The lawyers at Arbesman Hamilton LLP can help make this difficult time as stress-free as possible. We help our clients understand their legal rights and obligations while weighing their options. We want our clients to save money, time and stress. Please contact us by email or phone at 416-481-5604 to book a consultation.