Will you marry me?
Often, one of the happiest moments in an individual’s life is purchasing an engagement ring and asking the big question, “Will you marry me?” An individual spends countless time selecting, sometimes creating, the unique engagement ring to seal the deal. Even though the trend seems to challenge traditional rules, it was reported last year that tradition has required an individual to spend two to three months of their salary on an engagement ring.
Unfortunately, when the engagement is called off there are many questions that remain. Some of those questions may be, “who gets to keep the ring?” or “should I give the ring back to the one who proposed to me?” Engagement rings can be expensive and become bitterly contested after a proposal falls through.
Under Ohio law, the engagement ring is considered a conditional gift. See Cooper v. Smith, 155 Ohio App. 3d 218, 224-225 (Ohio Ct. App., Lawrence County Nov. 7, 2003), citing Albanese v. Indelicato, 25 N.J. Misc. 144, 51 A.2d 110 (1947). When the condition is not fulfilled, or does not occur, the conditional gift must be returned to the donor.
As described in Cooper, an engagement ring symbolizes the couple’s promise to marry. See Cooper, 155 Ohio App. 3d at 226. Because of the symbolic nature of an engagement ring, it implies a condition that at some point, the couple will be wed. The condition is not met if the couple does not get married. Cooper describes that “the engagement ring has a special significance because it symbolizes the couple’s promise to marry. As a symbol of the promise to marry, what value does the ring have for the donee (the giver of the ring) once the engagement is ended?” Cooper, 155 Ohio App. 3d at 226. Implying a bit of humor, the Court of Appeals held that a donor proposing to his or her beloved is unlikely to expressly condition the gift of the engagement ring on the occurrence of the marriage. Id. Not only did the Court of Appeals recognize how unlikely this is, but they recognized how unromantic such a requirement would be. Id.
However, some Courts have held that there are exceptions to the general rule that the engagement ring must be returned to the donor. Parties to an engagement may contract around the general rule. In executing a valid contract the parties may agree that the donee may retain the engagement ring or the value of the ring if the engagement is called off. Additionally, Wion v. Henderson held that the donee may keep the ring if the engagement is broken unjustifiably. 24 Ohio App. 3d 207, 208 (Ohio Ct. App., Miami County Apr. 22, 1985), citing Wilson v. Dabo, 10 Ohio App. 3d 169 (Ohio Ct. App., Franklin County June 14, 1983). However, one must understand that it is very difficult to establish whether the engagement was broken unjustifiably.
Getting engaged is a wonderful experience. One should feel a tremendous amount of joy when asking “will you marry me?” as the other party answers “yes!” As this new journey begins, both parties should be comforted by the fact that the law is fair and just in protecting their interests.
This article is not intended to provide legal advice. It is intended to provide broad and general information about the law. Before applying the law discussed herein, please consult with your Attorney or the Attorneys at the White Law Office, Co.
 Grant, Tim. Millennials Challenge Engagement Ring Cost Rules, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Detroit News republished on Feb. 29, 2016); http://www.detroitnews.com/story/business/2016/02/29/millennials-challenge-engagement-ring-cost-rules/81126148/.