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Engagement Ring May Be Viewed As Irrevocable Gift by Courts

Publish Date: 05/19/2014

"Who gets the engagement ring after a broken engagement?" This is a question that we as Atlanta divorce attorneys hear on a fairly regular basis. Generally, courts treat engagement rings as conditional gifts. This means that a certain condition must occur before the gift is deemed completed or irrevocable. In the case of engagement rings, most courts consider the marriage as the condition that must occur before the giving of the engagement ring is considered a completed gift. What this means practically is that in most instances of broken engagements, the man (or the giver of the engagement ring) is entitled to its return. This is a general rule however, and as one New York man learned, there are instances in which an engagement ring may be viewed as an irrevocable or completed gift.

Recently, New York State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia ruled that in the matter of Louis J. Billittier Jr. vs. Christa M. Clark, Clark was entitled to keep the engagement ring given to her by Billittier. Billittier, who ended his three year engagement to Clark via text message, filed a suit seeking the return of the $50,000 ring in late 2012. Despite Billittier's unorthodox method of ending his engagement to Clark, he would have legally been entitled to the return of the 2.97carat ring but for a statement he made in the text message conversation with Clark regarding the broken engagement. According to The Buffalo News, in response to Billittier's initial message in which he indicated his desire to break the engagement, Clark responded: "Your doing this through a text message????" Billittier followed up his initial message by replying: "Plus you get a $50,000 parting ring. Enough for a down payment on a house."

As it turns out, this one message cost Billittier $50,000. Justice Buscaglia ruled that the message sent by Billittier referring to the ring as a "parting ring" transformed the engagement ring from a conditional gift - conditioned on marriage - to a completed gift. According to the court in this case, Billittier's reference to the ring as a "parting ring" instead of an engagement ring evidences Billittier's intent to give Clark the ring as a parting gift. Because Billittier's intent regarding the purpose of the gift has changed, the ring was no longer viewed as a conditional gift under the law, but a completed irrevocable gift.


Family Law (general)
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