Engagement Ring: Who Gets To Keep It?

People often wonder if they have to return the diamond ring if the engagement is called off. The answer in New Mexico, as in most other states, is a resounding “it depends”.

However, it is usually a pretty clear choice. An engagement ring is a conditional gift. This means if the condition, in this case, the wedding, occurs, the condition has been fulfilled and the recipient gets to keep the ring even if the wedding doesn’t last long.

The ring goes back to the giver if the condition was not fulfilled. This is true regardless of whose fault it is that the wedding is cancelled. New Mexico is a no-fault divorce state, and by extension, a “no fault” cancelled wedding state. In addition – the courts clearly do not want to be involved in arguments about why the engagement could not go on.

In a case about twenty years ago, our Supreme Court considered whether who was at fault would result in a different outcome (Vigil v. Haber 888 P.2d 455C (1994)). In this particular case, the woman cancelled the wedding because her future husband had misbehaved badly. She wanted to keep the ring, and the district court said she could do so. However…

Reversing the lower court, the New Mexico Supreme Court used contract theory to say the ring was a symbol of an agreement to marry, and if the marriage did not happen – then the parties should be returned to the “status quo”.

So, if you want to keep the engagement ring folks, you have to get married! When a marriage is over, each person keeps their own personal items and that includes their jewelry and any gifts they may have received during the marriage. The court generally does not even put a value on the items – jewelry is just considered a personal property and it goes with its owner.