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Whose Ring Is It if a Couple Breaks up?

Recording star Mariah Carey’s Australian billionaire fiancé recently broke their engagement. One question immediately asked was, “What will happen to the 10-million-dollar engagement ring James Packer had given her?”

As of now, Mariah has refused to return it. Legally speaking, however, the answer is “that depends.” Although Mariah and James had discussed a prenuptial agreement, none had been signed. Without proof that the ring was an outright gift with “no strings attached,” whether or not the ring has to be given back depends upon the state whose laws will govern.

Engagement rings are generally considered by the courts to be conditional gifts. In other words, it is assumed that the ring is given with the expectation that a marriage will take place. However, laws regarding whether or not the ring must be returned if the giver wants it back after the couple breaks up vary from state to state.

Because the couple had been living together in California, the case could be heard in that state if the case goes to court. However, the ring was purchased in New York, so there is also a chance that New York’s laws would apply. The laws in these two states differ.

If California Laws Govern

Like the laws of most states, California laws treat engagement rings as conditional gifts, but it is one of the few states to take a “fault” view of whether or not it must be returned. Unless there is a written agreement stating otherwise, the following guidelines would be followed:

  • If the giver breaks the engagement, then the recipient can keep the ring.
  • If the recipient breaks the engagement, then the ring must be given back.

Under certain circumstances the judge might take into consideration the reason the recipient broke the engagement and allow the ring to be kept. An example might be unfaithfulness on the part of the giver.

If New York Laws Govern

New York laws also consider an engagement ring to be a conditional gift, but unlike California, New York courts take a “no-fault” point of view. They do not take into account what caused the breakup or who broke the engagement. Unless there is a written agreement or other proof that the gift was unconditional and meant to be kept no matter what, then the ring must be returned to the giver if the giver wants it back.

In the case of Mariah Carey and James Packer, it would obviously be to Mariah’s benefit if California laws applied if the case goes to court.

What if New Jersey Laws Governed?

New Jersey laws consider an engagement ring to be a conditional gift unless there is a prenuptial agreement or other proof that the ring was meant to be an unconditional gift.

Like those in New York, New Jersey courts take a “no-fault” view regarding the return of the ring. Who is to blame for the breakup of the engagement is generally not taken into account.

If the recipient refuses to give back the ring, the giver can file a lawsuit.

On the other hand, if the recipient believes that the gift was not given conditionally, she can fight that lawsuit. Her New Jersey attorney might be able to show that the ring was an outright gift. These are some of the circumstances that might be cited:

  • The couple has a prenuptial agreement or other written document stating

that she should keep the ring even if the engagement is broken.

  • The gift was a birthday present.
  • The gift was given on Valentine’s Day, Christmas, or another holiday.

The judge would have to determine the giver’s intent at the time.

 

Do you have questions about prenuptial agreements or any other divorce and family law issues? Call Aretsky Law Group, P.C., 24/7 at 800-537-4154.

 

 

 

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