A Judge in the Delaware Court of Common Pleas ruled that a man is entitled the return of an engagement ring he gave his former fiancé where it was found that the ring was given on the condition of their intended marriage and that the engagement was mutually broken by the parties. Many other jurisdictions follow the rationale that the donor is entitled to return of the conditional gift in the event that the marriage does not take place, regardless of who calls off the engagement (New York for example). Some jurisdictions take the view that the gift is unconditional and the man is not entitled to get “the rock” back. It is interesting that Delaware incorporates an element of mutual dissolution of the engagement into the equation. When did “Will you marry me?” lose its romantic symbolism and become an offer to enter into a contract? So many aspects of the institution of marriage are contractual, i.e. pre-nups, post-nups, custody and support agreements etc. New York now takes a no-fault approach to divorce, and so it seems only fair that a no-fault ring return policy is in place. After all, a man spends thousands of dollars on a pricey bauble in contemplation of marriage; would it be just to leave him with thinner pockets and her with a windfall? Just as with any broken contract, restitution is appropriate. The issue of fault may be relevant but it would probably put a heavy strain on already overburdened court resources. Unfortunately in this day and age, diamonds are not forever.
Byam v. Jackson, Del. Ct. Com. Pl., No. CPU5-11-000542, 6/22/11