This question often arises: When a couple terminates their relationship after becoming engaged, but prior to marriage, who gets to keep the engagement ring?
The answer is actually fairly straightforward in California, which has a law specifically addressing engagement rings in contemplation of marriage.
California Civil Code § 1590 states “where either party to a contemplated marriage … makes a gift … to the other on the basis or assumption that the marriage will take place, in the event that the donee refuses to enter into the marriage as contemplated or that it is given up by mutual consent, the donor may recover such gift or such part of its value.”
The “donor” is the person who proposed the marriage to his or her partner with an engagement ring. The “donee” is the person who accepted the proposal of marriage, along with the engagement ring. Under Civil Code § 1590, upon the termination of the relationship after the engagement and at any time prior to marriage, the person who purchased the ring (i.e. the donor) is entitled to the ring or its value in the situation where the donee sold the ring to a third party.
Importantly, the donor is entitled to the ring or its value regardless of who terminated the engagement. This falls in line with California’s long-standing policy of being a “no-fault” state. Meaning, California’s family laws are the same irrespective of any infidelities or other reasons for ending a relationship.