Rules of a (Broken) Engagement

A broken engagement is never fun. But sometimes, unfortunately, it is a reality. So if you find yourself in this predicament, be armed with good information to at least help on a practical side.

Whether you are the jilter or the jiltee, there is more to calling off a wedding then just notifying friends and family and returning the gifts. Here are just two things to keep in mind before you cancel the caterer.

  1. Who Gets the Ring?

  2. You may think Pamela Anderson has every right to keep the engagement ring that Kid Rock gave her, but it isn’t just a question of etiquette when it comes to who gets to keep the ring.

    The question of whether or not a bride gets to keep an engagement ring if the wedding is called off has been argued in courts across the country for the last fifty years. Some states have even passed laws legislating who should get a ring given in contemplation of marriage.

    You may be of the school of thought that says, “a gift is a gift.” Your fiance meant to give you a ring, he gave you the ring, and you accepted it. DONE DEAL.

    Oh, if only it were this simple. Some states do agree a gift is a gift and the bride should be able to keep it. Other states say even though a ring was given on the condition a couple would marry, it should go back to the giver if the marriage doesn’t occur. What if the giver of the ring is the person who called off the engagement and the givee had every intention of following through with the marriage. Shouldn’t the givee be allowed to keep the ring?

    Most courts don’t want to have to be in the middle of a he-said, she-said debate about who caused a break-up so may states follow a rule of “no-fault” broken engagements. Just as many states have adopted “no-fault divorces,” the no-fault broken engagement rule allows the groom to get the ring back regardless of whether he caused the break-up.

    Other states have adopted a modified “fault” rule allows the groom to get the ring back unless he is the one who called off the engagement. Just this year a Connecticut court took the side of the bride allowing her to keep the ring because the groom caused the break-up.

    Still, other states like California have laws to mandate that the ring goes back to the groom if the bride breaks off the engagement or it is mutual decision.

    So no matter what etiquette, your gut or your mother tells you about returning the ring, your rights to the ring may already be determined by the laws in the state where you live.

  3. Who gets the joint checking account?

  4. Maybe more important than who gets back the diamond baubles, is who gets to keep the cash when there is a broken engagement.

    Many couples, in contemplation of marriage, open joint checking accounts to pay expenses of the wedding or to make payments on shared bills, but most don’t understand the consequences.

    In the event that either the bride or the groom decides to buy the Harley they always wanted or even to just withdraw all of the money in the account, either person on the joint checking account can do this without the permission of the other.

    In other words, don’t dump the entire lump of your hard earned savings into a joint checking account until the wedding day, when you are sure half of that Harley will also be yours.

    A broken engagement is never fun, but should it happen to you, it is best to be prepared.

    Keller Smith is an attorney with The Keller Law Firm in Manhattan Beach, California; she can be reached at www.kellerlawfirm.com. She contributes a column once per month.

    A broken engagement is never fun. But sometimes, unfortunately, it is a reality. So if you find yourself in this predicament, be armed with good information to at least help on a practical side.Whether you are the jilter or the jiltee, there is more to calling off a wedding then just notifying friends and family and returning the gifts. Here are just two things to keep in mind before you cancel the caterer.

Keller Smith is an attorney with The Keller Law Firm in Manhattan Beach, California; she can be reached at www.kellerlawfirm.com. She contributes a column once per month.

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