New Column: This Does Not Constitute Legal Advice

January 18, 2013

We are thrilled to introduce LOTL’s original advice column, This Does Not Constitute Legal Advice. Tune in on Fridays for non-legal, legal advice from real lawyers on real legal questions. 


My fiance is a soulless honey badger who doesn’t know how to be in a functional relationship. He says if we split I have to give him the ring back, but he lies. Is he lying in this instance, too? Can I keep it? Or can he sue me?


Bitter and Feeling Spiteful

Dear Bitter and Feeling Spiteful,

Congratulations! You’re close to never again having to listen to his snoring or to him saying, “Let there be light!” every time he flips a switch. But your question is a good one. I understand why you’d want to keep the engagement ring. (Sure, it was in his family for nine generations, but serves him right for having slave-owning ancestors anyway!)

First, let’s get one thing straight. This is not a column about whether you should give back the ring. I am not Emily Post or Miss Manners. I’m also not your therapist and not here to tell you that keeping the ring may take an unexpected emotional toll and force you to remember the way he would charge your dying cellphone without you asking, or give up meat with you when you found out you had morals, or make sure you never left your coat stuffed under a bar stool. I’d never suggest that keeping an old engagement ring could hurt your future relationships when your future fiancé starts wondering why you are wearing a much bigger ring than the one he bought you. No. This is a column about what you are legally allowed to do in the eyes of the law, not the judging eyes of your mother or the catty eyes of your ex fiancé’s future girlfriend.

Like marriages, engagement rings are generally governed by property, contract and family law. Courts are generally split on whether engagement rings are gifts (mine, mine, all mine!) or conditional gifts, which aren’t yours to keep until a future event occurs—in this case, the M word. To be considered a legal gift, you would have to show three basic things: that your fiancé intended to give you the ring as a gift, that your fiancé delivered the gift to you (and did not keep it locked in his secret vault), and that you accepted the gift. If you can show these three things, say cha ching! to the ring. But beware: you may also have to show that the gift was not conditional on marriage (“Your honor, he said I could keep the ring if I told his parents we were engaged so they would never find out that he is gay”). With this in mind, here are some factors for all readers to consider before keeping a ring and getting yourself sued (or, at the very least, brought into Judge Daytime TV’s syndicourt of justice):


  • Where do you live? Just as your football team loyalties are dictated by where you live, so too are your rights to keep that token of a marriage-to-be. Each state treats the question differently. But that should not leave you powerless. Create a map for yourself of the fifty states (maybe add Puerto Rico, too) and color in green which states let you keep the ring. Insist to your serious boyfriend that the two of you move to a green state before getting engaged. Do not let him see this map.


  • Who broke it off?  Some courts get all up in your biz-naz and want to know who ended the relationship. Of course, not all courts need you to air each other’s dirty laundry (think of how much more boring the court docket has become after no-fault divorce). But to be safe, it is best that you pressure your partner into breaking up with you. Eat solely garlic for a week, watch the first half of How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days for inspiration, and suddenly let your fiancé in on the secret that women poop, too. DO NOT CHEAT ON HIM. But do introduce him to your Brazilian model friend Gisele.


  • Did you get the ring on a birthday or holiday? It’s too late for you, dear Bitter, but for All the Single Ladies whose boyfriends have yet to pop the question: try to get engaged on a national holiday (maybe not Memorial Day) or on your birthday, so you can make the argument that the ring was a birthday or Christmas gift (again, not Memorial Day). You can tell the court you never promised to marry this man, you just accepted his generous donation to your left-hand. Come to think of it, it would really help your case if you wore the ring on your thumb or pinky finder, further supporting your argument that this was just a stylish addition to your handrobe. And as for photos? Skip the customary “look-at-us-we-are-so-happy-and-engaged” Facebook update. The smartest thing to do when you get engaged is to post a picture of the ring saying, “Gosh, look what I found on the street today!” Your fiancé will think you are being clever and witty, but really you will be paving the way for a victorious legal case.


Following this advice may not nurse your broken heart back to health, but that’s what spa days, Napa getaways and a new wardrobe is for, courtesy of the pawn shop.

Good luck, BAFS. I believe in you.


Luci Lawless

Note: Lest anyone think me heteronormative or anti-man, all parties to love can benefit from this advice by taking defensive measures against a cunning engagement-ring keeper. Insist on getting engaged in a non-green state on the map, force your fiancé to break up with you, propose on a day that no person in their right mind would consider a gift-giving day (September 11? Too soon?), size the ring so that it only fits on your fiancé’s left-ring finger, and document the bejezus out of your engagement on Facebook, Twitter and maybe even video recordings (See next week’s article: “Can You Secretly Tape Intimate Conversations with Your Loved Ones?”).


Luci Lawless is an attorney in a Big Law firm in the northern hemisphere. She was born to parents and lives in a dwelling. She has graduted from a law school that awards degrees, where she learned law-related things. She is not calling upon any of that knowledge, or any real or imagined skills or expertise, in her blog contributions. If you want real legal advice, consult an attorney. Seriously.