What happens to the engagement ring in a break up?
As is often the case in family law, the answer depends on the circumstances. The main consideration: at what stage were the parties in their relationship when they separated? Married – in Alberta, the division of the rings is subject to the provisions of the Matrimonial Property Act (MPA). The Matrimonial Property Act states that any assets acquired by a spouse before marriage is exempt from distribution in the event of separation. As such, an engagement ring gifted from husband to wife prior to the marriage would remain with the wife.
What if break up is prior to the marriage? Likely, the result is different. Alberta Courts view engagement rings as “conditional gifts” – given on the condition that the parties will eventually marry. Generally, if an engagement is broken and the parties never marry, the engagement ring is returned to the gifting party.
It should be noted that it is irrelevant who caused the break-up, and blameworthy conduct does not preclude the gifting party from recovering the engagement ring. Section 102 of the Family Law Act, in line with the no fault divorce system in Canada, states the following:
Gifts in contemplation of marriage
102 If a person makes a gift to another person in contemplation of or conditional on their marriage to each other and the marriage fails to occur, the question of whether the failure was the fault of the person making the gift shall not be considered in determining the right of that person to recover the gift.
There are, however, some exceptions. In McManus v. McCarthy, 2007 ABQB 783 the Court found that after a fourth proposal, the husband had made it clear to the wife that the ring was conditional on them remaining engaged and also remaining married. The parties did marry, but the marriage only lasted nine days. Due to the specific conditions, the Court did not follow the usual rule for married couples under the Matrimonial Property Act and ordered the engagement ring be returned to the husband.
In Bhachu v. Brown, 2019 ABQB 150 the Court found that the engagement ring should be kept by the party who received it, despite the parties not marrying and the condition not being met. The receiving party kept the ring because of an extended period – around 5 years – during which the parties were engaged with no evidence of any concrete plans towards marriage. As well, there was evidence that both parties gifted rings to each other. This case demonstrates the willingness of the Court to closely consider the intention of the gifting party and any evidence that diminishes the conditional nature of the gift.
At Coach My Case, we can answer your questions about the engagement ring and other divisions of matrimonial property. Contact our Legal Navigator to start the conversation.