Is an engagement ring a conditional gift?

By Kirsten McMahon, Managing Editor

Whether or not a jilted fiancé is legally required to return the engagement ring is “really not a settled issue” in Ontario, Toronto family lawyer Jennifer Shuber tells the Toronto Star.

As part of a weekly advice column penned by Kathryn Hudson, editor-at-large of The Kit, a reader wondered if she should keep the ring her ex proposed to her with — a family heirloom that belonged to his grandmother.

“We assign more power and meaning to jewelry than to just about anything else. If you ask someone what they are most sentimental about, they are likely to point either to their wedding ring or to a piece of heirloom jewelry that’s been passed down through generations. And in your difficult case, those two collide: you want to hold onto something that you love, and his family wants to hold onto a piece of their history,” Hudson writes.

Hudson turned to Shuber for her take on this dilemma and asked if the reader has a legal right to keep the ring.

“Like many things in the legal world the answer is: it depends,” says Shuber, senior associate with Gelman & Associates.

“It’s really not a settled issue. If you’re going to be litigating it in Ontario, it’s a toss-up about whether the theory of a ‘gift is a gift’ would apply and you can keep it no matter what, or whether it was a gift that was conditional on a marriage taking place and since the marriage didn’t take place, it ought to be returned,” she tells the Star.

While laws, etiquette and fashions all change, your conscience is pretty reliable, the column notes.

“I say to my clients, ‘You want to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and look your future kids in the eye,’” Shuber says. “So take the time you need to take down the temperature of a situation.”

She adds that when people separate, they are often in very different places.

“The person who wants the separation has likely already mourned the loss of the relationship and gone through the anger,” Shuber says. “The other person has a range of emotions and stages to go through before they can process longer-term decisions.”

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