How to Return an Engagement Ring
After an engagement is formally broken, there’s still the question of what to do with the engagement ring. Not only do you need to figure out which person in the relationship should keep the ring, but you also need to figure out what to do with the ring once the rightful owner takes possession. Be sure to consider all of the legal and situational factors which determine ring ownership, as well as what options you have if you receive these rights.
Deciding Who Gets the Ring
Talk to your former fiancée about the ring.Before you assume that the ring will become an object of contention, take the mature approach and ask your former partner what they want to do with it. You might be surprised how peacefully the issue can be resolved; in many cases, the buyer of the ring decides they want the other to keep it, or the recipient seeks to return the ring as a matter of course.
- For example, find a time when both of you are calm and agree to have a chat. Say something like, "I was hoping we could discuss what we should do with our engagement ring. I think we can find a solution that will satisfy both of us."
- You don’t have to force a face-to-face if your breakup was particularly bitter, but you might nevertheless want to make an effort to reach an informal agreement before taking legal action. Ask a mutual, level-headed friend to act as the go-between, or try communicating with your ex through civilly worded emails or letters.
Determine if your ring was a conditional or absolute gift.In most countries, a gift is presumed irrevocable, meaning that it cannot be taken back or rescinded retroactively. This presumption is complicated, though, in the case of romantic gifts and engagement rings: almost all courts view engagement rings as falling under one of two categories—that is, conditional or absolute.
- A conditional gift means that the donor (the giver) gave the donee (the recipient) the ring on the condition that the couple will eventually marry. If this marriage never occurs, then this condition has not been met. An absolute gift means that the ring was given with no expectation or precondition for its bestowal.
Evaluate evidence for your claim.In many cases, the two parties disagree on the nature of the gift: the donor claims it was conditional, while the donee asserts that it was absolute. Whatever your opinion, you should look for evidence to support your claim. For example, if you have an email or texts from your ex where they assure you that the ring is a gift simply meant to honor you and your love, this can be used as evidence of an absolute gift.
- On the other hand, if you have a written agreement wherein the recipient agrees to return the ring if the engagement is cancelled, this counts as evidence that the gift was indeed conditional.
Consider special circumstances which could affect the ring’s ownership.In many places, courts which usually mandate return of the ring to its donor contradict this ruling if the couple was married and is now getting divorced, or if the ring was a family heirloom. In the latter case, the condition of the engagement ring was fulfilled—that is, the couple got married—so the ring should stay with the donee.In the former case, the ring is regarded as property of the original owning family and not of the recipient.
- If your ring was a family heirloom but you have no documentation proving this origin, you should consult your attorney as to how to validate this claim.
Review legal precedent.The legal precedent wherever you live will determine who should take possession of the engagement ring. In the U.S.A., for example, state courts determine this question. All states with the exception of Montana have decided that an engagement ring constitutes a conditional gift and thus should be returned to its donor when an engagement is called off.
- In contrast, courts in the U.K. generally side with the recipient: unless one can prove otherwise, the gift is deemed absolute and can be retained by its recipient.
Evaluate reasons and responsible parties for the breakup.Many courts view an engagement ring as a conditional gift or the symbolic emblem of a contractual bargain, but they also consider the reasons and details of the breakup relevant to the settlement. For example, Australian courts have ruled that, if the recipient of the ring breaks off the engagement, they must return the ring. If, on the contrary, the donor breaks off the engagement, they have no right to demand the ring’s return.
- Some states in the U.S. also take responsible parties and causes for the engagement’s cancellation into consideration. South Carolina, Illinois, and California, for example, determine that, even though the ring is a conditional gift, the rights for it go to whichever party was not at fault for the broken engagement.
- Many states disagree with this reasoning and have adopted a no-fault policy which decrees that the ring should be returned to its donor, regardless of who was at fault for the engagement’s dissolution.
Consult a lawyer.Once you’ve done a bit of research and decided that you want to fight for the ring via legal action, you should find a local attorney who specializes in family law. Try to find a firm that offers free consultations and estimates so that you don’t hire a pricey attorney only to discover it was a big waste of time and money.
- Before signing anything and initiating the process, be sure that you're prepared to go through a lengthy and potentially painful legal process. From a purely practical, monetary standpoint, the ring is unlikely to be worth enough to justify the steep costs of litigation. After all, even if you or your ex paid a tidy sum for the diamond engagement ring, its actual value is only a fraction of the retail price.
Comply with the court’s ruling.Whether law dictates that you return, retain, or recover the ring from your ex, you should obey the ruling immediately in order to avoid further fines or sanctions.If you need to return the ring, take it to your lawyer’s office so that they can hand it over in a timely and professional manner. If you need to get the ring back from your ex, have your lawyer or a mutual friend make the hand-off in order to avoid emotional, messy scenes.
Process your emotions regarding the resolution.No matter how the issue was decided, you should allow yourself time to reflect on the lost relationship which the engagement ring symbolized. Many psychologists argue that this process resembles the grieving process one endures after a death, so don’t underestimate the emotional toll this stage can take.
- If you find yourself so depressed that you don’t leave the house, have trouble sustaining normal eating patterns, or fixating on your ex in unhealthy ways, seek professional help from a therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist.
Rely on your support system.You might feel like crawling into a corner and licking your wounds in the aftermath of your painful breakup, but try to resist this impulse to isolation. Studies have shown that meaningful social support such as close friends and family can mitigate a number of the adverse effects of stress—for example, lowering the hike in blood pressure and buffering damage to the cardiovascular and nervous system—as well as accelerate the healing process.
- Make a special effort to spend time doing things you love with the people you love. A simple afternoon movie with friends or potluck dinner can provide immeasurable emotional comfort while distracting you from the pain of your breakup.
- Try not to bottle up your emotions. No matter how difficult it may be, try to find a way to process your emotions. For some people, this may involve talking to family and friends, but if this is difficult for you, you may want to find a creative outlet, such as journaling or drawing.
Find closure from time and forgiveness.Giving yourself time to feel sad and damaged from the broken engagement will eventually help you to find closure in the future. Experts describe this process as one where you soak in the feelings of loneliness and pain in order to let go of them later. Once you're ready, you can forgive your ex-fiancee and yourself for the breakup, which will also contribute to a sense of closure.
- Some experts even suggest a kind of ceremony when you feel ready to let the engagement go. You can invite a bunch of friends and have a raucous ex-engagement party, or you can organize a smaller, contemplative ritual kind of like a funeral for your relationship.
Decide what the ring means to you.If you’ve ended up as the rightful owner of the ring, you need to decide what you want to do with this token of your past relationship. In order to make this decision, though, you need to figure out how you feel about the ring and what it symbolizes to you. Ask yourself what emotions you experience when you look at the ring and what you would lose if you relinquished it.
- For example, if you remain friends with your ex and remain strongly attached to the ring, you might want to keep the ring as a keepsake or alter it into another piece of jewelry. If you still like the ring but associate it with painful and even traumatic memories, you should probably get rid of it.
Selling Your Ring
Find the receipt.If you recovered the ring from your ex and want to sell it, you should know that you won’t get what you paid for it originally. It’s unlikely that the store you purchased it from will take it back—most jewelry retailers charge up to 70% above market value, so they only make final sales—but you should still try to find the receipt in order to establish how much you or your ex paid for it in the first place.
- Even if you purchased the ring from a store that permits returns, you might not be able to take advantage of the policy If you’ve had the ring for over a year or made a unique engraving on it.
- If you’ve ransacked your house and can’t find the receipt, don’t despair yet! If you remember the store where you got it, you can try calling or visiting the store and seeing if they keep records of past transactions. They should be able to look up your ring by the credit card you used or a serial number carved into it.
Get the ring appraised.If you’ve retained the ring which your ex gave to you, you likely don’t have access to the original receipt. You can still get it appraised, though, in order to determine its value. The appraiser won't be able to tell you exactly what your ex paid for the ring, but they can give you an idea of what you can expect to earn from its sale.
- Stay away from appraisers who offer rock-bottom rates or determine fees based on a percentage of their appraisal value. Go instead for a reputable appraiser that charges by the hour or a single, flat fee.
Compare offers from secondhand shops which purchase used jewelry.If your ring can’t be returned to the original store, you can explore your options at pawn shops and jewelry stores which accept secondhand items. Just make sure not to jump at the first offer: take the ring to several different shops and sellers in order to make sure you get the best price for your piece.
- Some pawnshops thrive off of dodgy business practices and cheating customers, so make sure you frequent only those places with good customer reviews and Better Business Bureau ratings.
- The secondhand buyer will only pay a fraction of what was originally spent on the ring, but you can try haggling with the store clerk in order to get a better price. Such clerks are professional deal-makers and are trying to give you as little as possible, so their first offer will probably not be their highest.
Consider selling online.If you’re squeamish about selling in person and don’t feel comfortable haggling, you can try selling your ring through auction websites, such as eBay. List a low starting bid but make sure you set a reserve price. This reserve price represents the lowest possible bid you’re willing to accept and protects you from a rock-bottom offer getting through.
- The most important thing to do to make your online auction item look appealing is to provide a good photograph and detailed product description. A dark, grainy picture or skimpy description will make prospective buyers reluctant to take the plunge and make a bid.
- Also be sure to clean your ring so that it looks its best in photos. Use a solution of warm water and dish soap, soak it for 20-40 minutes, and scrub with a toothbrush.
Send the ring to a wholesale gold buyer.If you can’t find a buyer anywhere else, your last resort is to sell it for scrap. You won’t get any money for the cut or craftsmanship of the ring, and you’ll only receive about 70-80% of its melt value, but the process is extremely simple and and requires minimal effort.
- Many buyers offer mail-in services to make the process maximally low-effort. Simply order a pre-addressed and paid envelope from the company’s website online and then drop it in the mailbox.
Transforming Your Ring into a New Piece
Consider how you would feel wearing the ring in an altered form.Even though your engagement is over, you might still have a very strong attachment to the ring. Perhaps the ring reminds you of your positive time together, or perhaps you designed it specifically according to your aesthetic preferences. If this is so, you should consider keeping the ring and making it into a piece you can wear yourself. Repurposing your ring in this way allows you to keep and honor old memories and tokens while turning them into something new and positive.
- If you love the way your ring looks, but it fills you with painful memories and feelings, you should probably let it go or, at the very least, put it away for a long time until you’ve healed emotionally.
Think about what jewelry you like and wear.Once you’ve decided to keep the ring and change it into something you like, you should consider your options for altering it. If you wear necklaces a lot, consider making the ring into a pendant for a necklace, or, if you love earrings, you can use the gems from the ring for earring studs.
- If you don’t wear jewelry, you could use the gems for cuff links or integrate them into a belt detail or broach.
Consult a jeweler about your ideas.After you’ve figured out what you want to do with the ring, go to a jeweler to ask them about how realistic your ideas are. Have them outline your options and propose an estimate for any of the projects offered.Make sure you ask several different jewelers in order to make sure that you get as a piece which conforms to your wishes as closely as possible.
- The labor involved in repurposed jewelry is quite extensive, so most jewelers charge a substantial fee for this service. This means that you should probably only consider this option if the ring is significantly valuable in financial or sentimental terms.
QuestionI was engaged for 19 months. She says she doesn't love me any more. She wants to buy the ring back at full price, which is a large sum, because it is precious to her. What should I do?
Licensed Professional CounselorLicensed Professional CounselorExpert AnswerIt depends on what other options you have and your feelings around the ring. If you don't plan to see her again and don't personally want to see the ring, then selling it to her might not be a bad option.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if she sells a ring that is lawfully his?
Licensed Professional CounselorLicensed Professional CounselorExpert AnswerIt depends on the value of the ring and the value of the emotional toll it would take to settle this. If the ring was of substantial value, then you can get a lawyer involved. Otherwise, it may be best to just cut your losses and move on.Thanks!
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