A common question that arises in family law matters is: 

What happens to an engagement ring when the relationship falls apart?

Courts have long held that upon separation, the parties shall each keep the jewelry, including watches, that they brought into the marriage.

The remaining family jewelry, which consists of jewelry purchased from the date of marriage to the date of separation, is then subject to the division of family property.

  1. The Engagement Ring

In British Columbia, the law relating to engagement rings is reasonably well-settled. One of the more recent cases of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in is P.S. v. H.R. 2016 BCSC 2071 (P.S.), set out the law relating to engagement rings.

P.S. established that courts have treated engagement rings as conditional gifts in contemplation of marriage and if the condition of marriage falls through, regardless of who is responsible for the end of the engagement, the ring must be returned to the donor unless a contrary intention is demonstrated.

In P.S. the claimant sought a return of the engagement ring from his fiancé, arguing they were conditional gifts in contemplation of the marriage. Justice Blok noted that the general approach in British Columbia is subject to evidence of a contrary intention on the part of the individual who gifts the ring. Accordingly, the court looked at the intention of the parties when there is a dispute about the return of an engagement ring. The court assessed the parties’ evidence and was satisfied that the donor gave the engagement ring to his fiancé as an absolute gift based on the following findings of the court:

[78]        When Ms. R. attempted to return the engagement ring to Mr. S. he insisted that she keep it and, when she asked “So you’re giving this to me?”, he said “yes”.  He suggested she try to take the ring back and use the money to help with her daughter’s wedding.  These are words evincing a clear intention to make an absolute gift

The decision in P.S. was confirmed by Justice Basran in M.N. v C.G.F, 2019 BCSC 1406 which held that absence of sufficient evidence that demonstrates that the engagement ring is an absolute gift means that the engagement ring may also be family property subject to division after the parties marry and on the dissolution of their marriage.

The cases above demonstrate that the courts will closely examine the intentions of the donor on whether the engagement ring is to be returned upon the break down of the relationship.

  1. A Promise Ring?

While an engagement presumes both the donor and the recipient of the ring agree on the condition of marriage in the future, the question then becomes what would happen if a donor presented the recipient with a “promise ring” ie a ring but not for the purposes of a marriage in the future.

In Tichopad v. Auger, 2021 BCCRT 583 the parties both stated that Mr. Tichopad bought the ring as a “promise ring” for Ms. Auger. Neither party presented any evidence that the ring was an engagement ring and neither party described the ring as an engagement ring. The tribunal in this decision found that based on the evidence of the parties, there is not the same condition attached to a promise ring as to an engagement ring. The tribunal distinguished a promise ring from an engagement ring and held that a “promise ring can be given as a unilateral expression of commitment to a relationship, but it is not necessarily conditional on an eventual engagement or marriage… The law on engagement rings does not apply here.”

For a ring to qualify as an absolute gift and hence not subject to return to the donor, three conditions must be met: 

  1. There must be an intention to donate,
  2. There must be an acceptance,
  3. There must be a sufficient act of delivery, which means the donor must actually deliver the property to the donee.

If you any questions about your rights as it pertains to engagement rings, promise rings or jewellery  we can help. Please contact us.

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