Beyonce sung about "putting a ring on it" but what
happens to the engagement ring when the wedding is called off? The
issue of who keeps the ring can be a contentious one with
perceptions about who is the rightful owner guided by convention,
tradition, morality or that the former bride-to-be automatically
keeps it! However, perceptions between the parties don't always
marry (pun intended) and in these instances, the Court steps
Disputes about the ring usually arise when one person in a
'cathartic release' (as it has been described to me)
disposes of the engagement ring – symbolically throwing it
into the ocean (or another body of water), melting it down to
create a new piece of jewellery or selling it. The other person
then seeks its return or monetary compensation equal to its
The guiding principles as to who keeps the engagement ring were
explained by the Local Court in the case of Papathanasopoulos v
Vacopoulos (formerly engaged couple, Ms P and Mr V).
In 2005, the happy couple exchanged rings at their engagement
party. Just ten days later, relations between them soured to the
point that Ms P called the wedding off. Ms P said that she tried to
give the ring back but was told to keep it so she placed it in a
box with other mementos of the failed relationship. The box and its
contents later made their way into the rubbish after Ms P asked her
father to get rid of them.
After learning the fate of "his precious," Mr V made a
claim in the Local Court for the return of the engagement ring or
compensation for its value, assessed at $15,250. Magistrate George
in the Local Court found for Mr V, and ordered Ms P to pay up.
Ms P appealed the decision, claiming that the ring was a gift,
and that she was entitled to deal with it as she pleased.
Justice Smart of the Supreme Court found that Ms P was the
holder of a "conditional gift" - the engagement ring
would only become her property after their marriage took place. He
said that, legally, a woman who receives a ring in contemplation of
marriage, and who later refuses to marry, must return the ring
unless there is some legal justification for her decision - for
example acts of violence towards her, or evidence that her
fiancé was sexually involved with another woman.
Justice Smart found that there was no such justification. In
fact, by changing her mind about the marriage, Ms P was rejecting
the gift, and "upon rejecting the gift she became a bailee of
that item so long as she had it in her control," responsible
for ensuring that the ring was properly looked after until the time
when Mr V asked for it back.
Ms P's claim that the gift became absolute when Mr V told
her that she could keep it, was also rejected by Justice Smart. He
said it was merely an attempt by Mr V to preserve the relationship
- not evidence that he was giving her the ring to do with as she
The appeal was dismissed, and Ms P was again ordered to pay
compensation, as well as Mr V's legal costs.
If a woman receives a ring in contemplation of marriage and
refuses to fulfil the conditions of the gift, she must return
If a man has, without a recognised legal justification, refused
to carry out his promise of marriage, he can't demand its
If the engagement is called off by mutual consent, then in the
absence of any agreement to the contrary, the engagement ring and
like gifts must be returned by each party to the other.
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Sect.117 can deal with false statements and knowingly making false allegations of violence could justify a costs order.
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