Getting engaged is a special and exciting time in a person’s life. Heightened emotions, secret plans and usually a diamond ring are involved. Unfortunately, engagements don’t always lead to marriage and the question of who gets to keep the engagement ring can quickly become a point of contention. California law provides different results under different circumstances and it’s important for couples to be aware of all possible outcomes if their engagement does not materialize into a marriage.

The divorce and family law attorneys at Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC have the experience and knowledge it takes to answer all of your questions about California engagement ring laws. Whether you have ended your engagement or have questions following your divorce, our skilled advocates can provide guidance and effective representation. For a free and completely confidential consultation with one of our divorce attorneys regarding engagement ring laws, separation issues or related matters, call (805) 643-5555.

Who Gets the Engagement Ring if the Woman Calls off the Marriage in California?

California law is clear when it comes to who keeps the engagement ring if the relationship ends before marriage. The law states that when either party gives a gift that is made in contemplation of marriage, in the event that the receiver of the gift refuses to enter into the marriage, the giver of the gift may recover the gift or its value. In other words, if a man gives a woman an engagement ring and the woman calls off the marriage, the man is legally entitled to take back the ring. Factors like living together, owning property together or having children have no impact on whether the giver of the ring can recover it before marriage. If the ring was a gift given in contemplation of marriage and the woman calls off the marriage, the man has an absolute right to take the ring back under California law.

Who Gets the Engagement Ring if the Man is Unfaithful Before the Marriage in California?

California law provides no exception to the rule when it comes to infidelity. If a woman discovers prior to the marriage that her fiancé has been unfaithful to her, she has no automatic recourse allowing her to keep the ring. However, couples may be able to provide for such an occasion by using a prenuptial agreement. If they so choose, a couple has the option to stipulate conditions about what happens to the engagement ring if they decide not to go through with their marriage. If the couple sign an agreement that the woman will be able to keep the ring if the man has been found unfaithful, the woman may legally reserve the right. However, this is probably the only circumstance in which this could occur.

Who Gets the Engagement Ring if it is Given as a Holiday Gift in California?

Many engagement rings are given on special holidays, such as Valentine’s Day, Christmas or New Year’s Eve. The argument could be made that the gift served a dual purpose, and was not made solely in contemplation of marriage. In order to determine who gets the ring here, the court will look deeper into the issue of whether it was truly given as an engagement ring or as a gift. If the engagement ring is given as a gift and the woman calls it off or both parties call it off, then she would not have to give the ring back if it was a gift.

Who Gets the Engagement Ring if the Man Calls off the Marriage in California?

The rule regarding return of engagement rings used to be different in California if the man was the one who called off the marriage. Old case law holds that “the clear meaning of the quoted statute is that the donee (i.e., the woman) of an engagement ring is entitled to retain possession thereof when the marriage contract is breached by the donor (i.e., the man) without any fault on donee’s part.” This would imply that as long as the woman was not at fault for ending the engagement, she would be entitled to keep the ring.

However, this case law is generally no longer enforced and California courts fall back to Civil Code § 1590 to answer the question. The Code states that the donor is entitled to the ring or its value regardless of who terminated the engagement. This is consistent with California’s long-standing policy of being a “no-fault” state. California’s family laws are the same notwithstanding any infidelities or other reasons for ending an engagement.

Who Gets the Engagement Ring in a Same-Sex Breakup in California?

California law regarding engagement rings is gender-neutral. The sex of the parties is not specified; rather, the distinction is made only in terms of the gift giver and gift receiver. When it comes to cases of same-sex marriages and gifts given in contemplation of marriage, then same law will still apply to these cases.

Who Gets the Engagement Ring After a Divorce in California?

Once the parties are legally married, then the conditions of California law regarding giving the ring back do not apply. The terms surrounding giving the ring have been satisfied by this point (i.e., the parties have entered into a marriage), so there is generally not a question about whether the woman can keep the ring as her sole property after the divorce.

Do You Need a Prenuptial Agreement to Keep the Engagement Ring After Divorce in California?

As mentioned above, generally there is no need to stipulate in a pre-nup what happens to the ring in order for the woman to keep it. However, if the ring is especially expensive or a family heirloom, the man may wish to insert a provision that the ring will be returned to him upon divorce or upon his wife being found unfaithful. It is generally the best practice in a pre-nup to include who owns all the property, in order to make it complete and without any ambiguity.

Contact an Experienced California Divorce Attorney Today

Engagement should be a happy and carefree time in a person’s life, but unfortunately, this is not always the case. In the event that your engagement has ended, it’s important to contact an experienced California family law attorney if there is a question about who is legally entitled to keep the engagement ring. At Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC, our skilled advocates have the experience and knowledge it takes to resolve your engagement ring issue and bring you peace of mind. For a free and completely confidential consultation regarding engagement ring laws, divorce proceedings or related matters, call (805) 643-5555.