Can I Keep My Engagement Ring?

Upon the breakdown of a marriage, there are defined laws addressing how marital property is to be divided. But what happens if an engagement doesn’t result in marriage? And who gets to keep the engagement ring?

Each province addresses ring ownership upon the breakdown of an engagement differently. Theoretically, courts have grappled with the concept of gifting and whether an engagement ring should be considered an absolute or conditional gift. Courts have even imported contract law principles in their determination of ownership.

The relative lack of clarity with which this area has been approached by the courts and in the common law has led to some jurisdictions drafting legislation to deal with gifts exchanged before marriage.

For example, section 33 of Ontario’s Marriage Act has codified the common law principle that fault may not be considered where an engagement ring is given in contemplation of marriage or given as a “conditional gift”:

Where one person makes a gift to another in contemplation of or conditional upon their marriage to each other and the marriage fails to take place or is abandoned, the question of whether or not the failure or abandonment was caused by or was the fault of the donor shall not be considered in determining the right of the donor to recover the gift.

A simple application is: if no marriage follows, the ring must be returned to the donor. The justification being that return of the ring puts both parties in the position they were in before the engagement.

Other jurisdictions do not have similar legislation and remain bound by common law. Saskatchewan courts continue to follow precedents which retain historical foundations from 1917 (see Jacobs v Davis, [1917] 2 K.B. 532 at p. 533). Despite the old principle being adapted to apply to all relationships (not just those between a man and a woman), the basic idea is this:

If an individual who has received a ring refuses to fulfill the condition of the gift, they must return it. On the other hand, if the donor of the ring, without “recognized legal justification”, refuses to carry out their promise of marriage, they cannot demand the return of the engagement ring. It does not matter if the breaking of the promise turns out to be the ultimate advantage of both parties (D’Andrea v Schmidt, 2005 SKQB 201).

The legal effect of this common-law principle means that practically, if you break off an engagement, you are not entitled to the ring. Using the heteronormative example, boy proposes to girl, girl ends engagement, he gets to demand return of the ring. Alternatively, boy proposes to girl, boy ends engagement, she gets to keep the ring. In a way, the court has imported some level of fault (at least relating to the relationship ending) as being relevant in determining ring ownership.

As always in the law, there may be exceptions to the rule, but it is easy to see that certain inequities may exist where legislation is strictly adopted. Concepts of fairness may be compromised where a donor is allowed to demand the return of a ring, despite otherwise questionable actions or behaviours leading to the breakdown of an engagement. Alternatively, punishing an engagement ender by denying them the ability to retain an engagement ring might swing too far in the other direction, especially when considering the potential magnitude of cost.

A final option is that an engagement ring may be treated as a true and perfected gift. A judge may consider this the case where the donor says, “even if we never get married, this is a gift to you to remain yours”. This leaves no condition to be ‘fulfilled,’ and the recipient would likely retain ownership of the ring.

Despite this confusing and inconsistent area of the law, courts are apt to consider each case on its merits. We recommend seeking professional legal advice where there are questions related to engagement ring ownership.

This article is intended to provide legal information only, not legal advice.

For further information, please contact:

Tessa Wall
Student at Law
Direct: 306-933-1368
Email: [email protected]

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Binding pre-trial conferences are a relatively new process option in Saskatchewan, which are available in civil law matters, including family law. Given that there have been few conducted in Saskatchewan to date, there are few decisions from the Court discussing your options if you are dissatisfied with the outcome. A recent decision, Nemetchek v Nemetchek, 2022 SKQB 165 (“Nemetchek”), provides valuable insight. The case may be found here: 

https://www.canlii.org/en/sk/skqb/doc/2022/2022skqb165/2022skqb165.html?autocompleteStr=2022%20SKQB%20165&autocompletePos=1

As background, a pre-trial conference is the final stage in a court proceeding before a trial of the matter, where a judge makes a final decision for the parties. 

The pre-trial conference is the parties’ last court-facilitated option to settle the matter prior to proceeding to a trial. A judge is present at pre-trials to hear the parties’ respective positions on the issues and offer insight to try and move the parties toward settlement. If the parties cannot reach an agreement at the pre-trial, they move on to a trial. The judge does not make a decision. 

However, in general civil and family law matters, binding pre-trials are now available under parts 4 and 15 of The King’s Bench Rules of Saskatchewan. The binding pre-trial functions similarly to a regular pre-trial, as described above, except that if the parties do not reach an agreement, they leave it to the judge to make a final decision on the matter. Rather than proceeding to a trial, the pre-trial judge makes the call. This can save parties ample time and money in avoiding the trial process while still being provided with a final decision from a judge. 

One important thing to bear in mind when considering a binding pre-trial is the nature of the issues in your case. A judge is limited in their ability to assess credibility since the parties do not provide sworn evidence to the Court as they would during a trial, where they provide verbal testimony under oath. Therefore, if there are conflicting stories between the parties, a binding pre-trial may not be a good fit for your case since the judge is limited in their ability to assess credibility to determine who is more believable.    

Another consideration is that your ability to appeal a decision resulting from a binding pre-trial is very limited. You must seek permission from the judge who made the decision in order to appeal it, which is not likely to be granted absent an obvious error. If you proceed to trial instead of a binding pre-trial, you would be able to appeal the decision much more easily. 

On this note, an appeal of a binding pre-trial decision cannot be brought under the guise that you are seeking clarification regarding the decision or that you think parts of the decision were wrongly decided. In Nemetchek, the husband asked the Court to “revisit” aspects of the decision reached at the conclusion of the binding pre-trial, essentially asking the judge to revise her decision in the husband’s favour.  

The Court concluded that writing to the Court to “clarify” parts of a decision was unacceptable. Further, while a judgment may be amended to correct clerical errors, accidental slips, or inadvertent omissions, the process cannot be used to reconsider a decision on the merits as the husband sought to do.  

In short, you cannot request a judge to reconsider a binding pre-trial decision simply because you are unhappy with the results.

The Court concluded that the application was unnecessary and without merit, awarding costs of $3,000 against the husband to be paid to the wife.

This article is intended to provide legal information only, not legal advice. 

For further information, please contact:

Curtis P. Clavelle
Direct: 306-933-1341
Email: [email protected]

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