Woman Gets to Keep $10K ‘Engagement’ Ring After Breakup Because Boyfriend Didn’t Formally Propose, Judge Rules

We love to write about romantic marriage proposals, but today we take a close look at who gets the engagement ring when a relationship fails and the wedding never takes place. What does the law generally say and what recently happened on Long Island that tossed conventional wisdom to the wind?

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Although there is no uniform law in the U.S. or Canada regarding the return of engagement rings after a breakup, the most important factor in a disputed case is who broke off the engagement. In general, an engagement ring is a “conditional gift” until the couple actually get married. If he breaks off the engagement, she keeps the ring, and if she breaks off the engagement, she must return the ring.

But that logic was turned on its head last week when a Long Island judge said that Debbie Lopez of Valley Stream, N.Y., could keep the $10,200 diamond ring her boyfriend Joseph Robert Torres, of Yonkers, gave to her four years ago even though she put the kibosh on the relationship. His proposal wasn’t good enough.

Lopez, the mother of Torres’ six-year-old son, argued that Torres never actually proposed and gave her the ring as “a gift for being a great woman, a good mother of his child.”

Torres claimed that he proposed to Lopez at New York’s Rockefeller Center in 2010 and allowed their toddler son to hand her the ring.

Nassau County Judge Scott Fairgrieve sided with Lopez, ruling that Lopez was not bound by the law requiring women to return engagement rings because it was “given as a gift and not in contemplation of marriage.”

So what are the takeaways from this story?

  • Who gets to keep the ring is generally decided by who broke off the engagement.
  • Delivering a formal marriage proposal is the best way to ensure that the engagement ring is viewed by the courts as a “conditional gift” and not a simple gift.
  • Most courts have found that an engagement ring given on a holiday or birthday makes it a simple gift.
  • Courts generally say that once a simple gift is given, it cannot be taken back. Exceptions are sometimes considered in the case of family heirlooms.
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