Last month I read an interesting article about a local man trying to get his engagement ring back after his estranged fiancé broke off at the wedding. What piqued my interest in this article is that I had a very similar issue just last year with a client of mine, only my firm had a very different result.
When it comes to engagement rings, the law of gifts applies. Florida law is pretty clear that the person who gives the engagement ring is entitled to its return if the engagement is terminated by the person receiving the ring or by mutual consent by both parties. The gift of a ring is generally held to be not absolute, but it is made on the condition that marriage will ensue, making it a conditional gift as seen in Matter of Stage, 85 B.R. 880 (Bankr. M.D. Fla. 1988). Therefore, if the person who gives the ring breaks the engagement without the consent of the receiving person, the ring may be retained by the heartbroken party.
In the aforementioned article, a man spent $70,000 for a 6.71-carat diamond engagement ring. When his fiancé decided to end the engagement, he asked for the ring back, to no avail. The man filed suit for replevin, simply meaning “the returning of property.” The man won at the trial court level on summary judgment, where no issue of material fact exists to be tried by a jury based on the above-mentioned case law. However, the Fourth District Court of Appeals (4th DCA) overturned the trial court’s decision and remanded to have the issue tried before a jury. The 4th DCA was concerned that there was actually a factual dispute as to who actually broke the engagement. When a factual dispute exists as to material facts (here, who broke the engagement), that issue must be tried before a jury and cannot be decided upon by a judge.
This case does have some valid factual issues that need to be tried before a jury. While in the case of my client, who terminated the engagement was not disputed. Often these issues are highly fact-dependant and essentially become a case of “he-said, she-said.” When that happens, the role of the jury becomes involved as the finder of fact to decide who is telling the truth.