Gifts between an engaged couple

When two people, who are engaged, give gifts (including an engagement ring) to each other, there is a presumption that they are given on the condition that the gifts will be returned (if requested to), should the engagement end. If one of the engaged couple dies, however, it is presumed the gifts the deceased gave were given without any conditions. So, the surviving fiancé(e) can keep the gifts. It is possible to contest either of these presumptions in court if there is evidence to the contrary.

These presumptions only apply to gifts given during the engagement and does not apply to gifts given before or after the engagement.

Gifts from a third party

Where someone gives an engaged couple or one of the couple a wedding gift, there is a presumption (unless there is evidence to the contrary), that it is given to both of them as joint owners. It is also presumed that the gift will be returned (if requested to), should the engagement end and the marriage does not take place for any reason. This includes the death of one of the engaged couple.

A third party can also apply to the courts where one of the couple to a broken engagement received a substantial benefit (not a wedding gift) from the third party as a result of the engagement. For example, if a relative of one of the couple carried out or paid for substantial work to improve a property which the couple intended to use as the family home, the relative can apply to the courts for compensation.

Expenditure on preparations for marriage

Where an engagement has ended and one of the couple has incurred substantial expenses in preparation for the marriage (and hasn’t benefited from the expenses), that person may apply to the courts for compensation from their ex-fiancé(e). One example might be expenses incurred in booking the wedding reception, honeymoon and photographer. A third party (for example, a family member or friend) who incurs expenditure on behalf of one of the couple in preparation for the marriage and has not benefited, may also apply to the courts for compensation.

Property of engaged couples

Under Section 44 of the Family Law (Divorce) Act 1996 disputes about property between a couple whose engagement has ended are treated in the same way as disputes between a married couple who are separating or divorcing. This only applies to property in which either or both of them had a beneficial interest while they were engaged. It does not apply to property acquired after the engagement ended.

Taking legal action

Legal action must be taken within 3 years of the engagement ending. Such actions are generally taken in the Circuit Court but if very valuable property is involved, a party to the proceedings may ask that it be heard in the High Court. Contact a solicitor who will provide you with advice.

Who keeps the engagement ring?

Valentine’s Day just over – how many of you out there became engaged on that day of romance?

The engagement ring is often an expensive item – but who keeps it if the engagement is broken? Are legal relations created by the promise of marriage?

In some societies the promise of marriage still carries with it many of the responsibilities of marriage. It used to be the case in this county too until the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970 (“the Act”) put an end to an action for “breach of promise” stated that an agreement to marry could not be an enforceable contract.

However, certain legal relations are created by engagement which do not apply to couples who were previously cohabiting.

Firstly,under the Act, a gift from one party to the other, or from a third party, may be subject to an implied (or express) condition that if the engagement does not result in marriage, the gift must by returned to the giver – this is a particularly important provision to all concerned for example where a relative has donated a substantial lump sum to enable the engaged couple to buy a home for themselves. If not returned then proceedings could be issued for the return of the gift. It would not matter which of the parties called off the engagement.

In the unhappy event that one of the parties predeceases the other, there would be a rebuttable presumption that the gift would stay with the survivor.

What if the marriage ceremony has been called off and expense has been incurred by the party who does not break the engagement off? The wronged party in those circumstances may consider taking action against the other for damages.

Another interesting feature of engagement is that the Act also provides for the court, to determine the beneficial interests of each in any property they may have bought or worked on together during the engagement- as if they were married already.

Remember however, that should any of you out there consider taking any legal action as a result of your engagement being broken off – then it has to be taken within three years of that decision.

If you feel you need further advice concering this issue, the author, Anita Garside-Slinger, Solicitor, can be contacted at Ringrose Law, 2 & 2a Bargate, Newark NG24 1ES (01636 594460), email


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