Article Category - Family Law By Beatrice Patterson 09 May 2024

Usually, if a person accepts an engagement ring in contemplation of marriage but breaks off the engagement before the wedding, the law says the ring must be returned. Why? Because the ring was a gift conditional on marriage occurring and when the wedding doesn’t occur, the gift is to be returned.

What if the other person (the person who proposed) breaks off the engagement? In this scenario, if that person doesn’t have a legal justification (such as abuse or infidelity) for not following through on the promise of marriage, the ring does not need to be returned.

The law was solidified in a 2007 Supreme Court of New South Wales case of Papathanasopoulos v Vacopoulos. In this case, Andrew proposed to Vicki with a ring worth over $15,000. Their relationship broke down before the wedding. Vicki offered to return the ring to Andrew, but he refused to take it stating it was a gift to Vicki. Vicki’s father then threw the ring in the bin. Later on, Andrew commenced proceedings seeking the ring be returned or Vicki should pay him the value of the ring as it was a gift conditional on marriage, which she did not fulfill. Vicki argued that as Andrew told her to keep it after the separation, it was hers to do with as she wished and the gift was no longer conditional.

The Court held that engagements are very similar to ordinary contracts. If one person doesn’t fulfill the requirements under the contract, they will lose their deposit. As such, Vicki loses the right to keep the ring. Vicki was Ordered to pay Andrew his legal costs as well as the value of the ring!

Vicki and Andrew were not married nor were they in a de facto relationship, so the Family Law Act didn’t apply. So, does this have much application in family law? Usually, engagement rings are excluded from the property pool, however, if it is particularly significant in value the court has considered it in the pool for distribution. Parties can agree as to who should keep the ring, but if no agreement is reached, the court will consider a variety of factors such as the financial and non-financial contributions of the parties to determine who should keep the ring. 

Family Law can be tricky to navigate, but having a trusted team by your side can help make things less confusing. Get in touch if we can help 02 63312911. 

Beatrice Patterson | Solicitor