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The engagement is off: Do I get to keep the ring?

When your ex-fiance proposed to you, he gave you a $25,000 engagement ring. Now that he's left you for another woman, however, the engagement is off, and he's asking for the ring back.

You're feeling hurt and confused. You're also strapped for cash because you quit your job in Manhattan and moved to San Jose to be with him. Selling the ring could help you get through this rough financial patch. Plus, you don't feel -- by his behavior -- that he deserves to get it back.

The question is: How do you stand legally on this issue?

It depends on how the court classifies your "gift"

Courts may vary on engagement ring decisions after a broken engagement. The answer depends on how the court classifies the gift. The reason for the broken engagement will also come into play.

If the ring was truly a gift, in legal terms, you wouldn't have to return it. Here are the three legal requirements for something to be a gift:

-- The giver intended it to be a gift;

-- The giver actually gave it to you; and

-- You accepted the gift.

Courts usually allow receivers of gifts to keep them -- regardless of whether the giver changed his mind. On the other hand, if the court classifies your ring as a "conditional gift," the story will be different. Usually, courts classify engagement rings as conditional gifts.

What's a conditional gift?

Conditional gifts have "strings attached." The giver expects something to happen in the future. If the expectation doesn't come to pass, the provider can ask for the gift's return.

Most California courts will classify engagement rings as conditional gifts, since their given with the expectation of marriage. Nevertheless, a recipient might try to show that he or she satisfied the agreement by saying "yes," especially if the giver reneged on the marriage plans.

In California, though, if the giver of the ring reneges, it may be possible for the recipient to keep the ring. If the recipient reneges, then the understanding is that the ring must be returned. This is the current interpretation of the 1950 California case Simonian v. Donoian.

Check with a lawyer before keeping your ring

If you want to keep your ring, it's best to discuss the matter with a qualified California family law attorney. Every case is different, and nothing is cut-and-dry when it comes to whether you have the legal right to keep your engagement ring. A family law attorney can give you sound advice and perspective on the issue.

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