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Engagement Is Off – Who Keeps The Ring in Wisconsin?

You were engaged to be married and got “cold feet” and decided to call it off. Now, you are both arguing about who gets to keep the ring. The person who received the ring feels they are entitled to keep it because you were the one who broke it off. You feel that is unfair, that the engagement ring cost you thousands of dollars and regardless of who called the engagement off, it beats getting married and going through a divorce, and you believe that your former fiancée keeping the ring is unjust and inequitable.

Who is right?

Under Wisconsin law, an engagement ring is a conditional gift, the condition being the marriage. If you do not consummate the engagement with actually getting married, under the law, the ring must be returned. The leading case in Wisconsin is Brown v. Thomas, 127 Wis. 2d 318, 379 N.W. 2d 868 (Ct. App. 1985). The reason for the breakup is immaterial to who gets the ring. The court in Brown, stated the following; “Accordingly, we conclude that the public policy embodied in Wisconsin’s no-fault divorce law, ch. 767, applies to actions for recovery of gifts conditioned on marriage. Thus, an inquiry as to how the engagement was dissolved is not necessary in a common law action based on the theory of conditional gift and unjust enrichment.” The court went on to say at page 330, “This persuasive policy statement, which governs our approach to broken marriages, is equally relevant to broken engagements. We therefore apply the no-fault policy inherent in ch. 767 to common law actions maintainable under ch. 768. The former chapter deals with unhappy results; the latter with unhappy preliminaries. The subject matter, however is essentially the same, and statutes relating to the same subject matter may be considered in construing a statutory provision.” quoting, Kollash v. Adamany, 104 Wis. 2d 552, 563, 313 N.W. 2d, 47, 53 (1981).

Therefore, to make a long story short, the circumstances surrounding the dissolution of the engagement is not relevant as to the return of the ring when the engagement is off. It is a conditional gift, and if there is no marriage, you have to return the ring.

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