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Can the Bride-to-be Keep the Engagement Ring if a Marriage is Called off in South Carolina?

As South Carolina divorce attorneys we are often hired to work with the parties to a failed marriage over marital property on divorce.

But on occasions disputes can arise as to property when a marriage has failed to take place. This is rare but one valuable piece of property that has been the subject of disputes in the courts in the past is the engagement ring.

Engagement rings often cost four figures. But what happens if the parties decide not to marry after the bride-to-be receives the engagement ring?

The South Carolina Court of Appeals recently had the opportunity to address this question in the 2012 case of Campbell v. Robinson.

In this case Campbell, the groom-to-be, filed a lawsuit against Robinson, the bride-to-be, for the return of the engagement ring he gave her when he proposed. The bride refused to return the ring. She argued that while it was an engagement ring at first it became an absolute gift when the engagement was called off and claimed the groom had told her she could keep the ring.

Although the actions of the parties may appear to be relevant in these cases, the court determined otherwise. The court concluded in the case that "fault does not determine ownership of the ring."

In other words it does not matter if a bride or a groom calls off the wedding. Instead, the court adopted the following standard as the rule:

"An engagement ring by its very nature is a symbol of a donor's continuing devotion to the donee. Once an engagement is cancelled, the ring no longer holds that significance," the court ruled.

It said as a gift an engagement ring is "impliedly conditioned upon the marriage taking place."

Unless the condition – in this case the marriage is fulfilled - the "attempted gift is unenforceable and must be returned to the donor upon the donor's request."

The court's decision means that an engagement ring is generally conditional on an engagement and the bride to be has no right to keep it if the wedding is called off.

However, the bride-to-be may be able to keep the ring if she is able to demonstrate it was an absolute gift and was not given in contemplation of marriage. Nothing in this blog is intended to constitute legal advice.

If you have any questions about divorce or a family law matter, call our experienced family law attorneys. Contact the Masella Law Firm at 803-748-9990.