In July, 2012, Christa Clark was dumped by her fiancé via a text message. The two had been engaged for about 14 months before she received that fateful message informing her that their wedding would no longer take place.
When they got engaged, her fiancé, Louis Billittier presented Clark with a 2.97 – carat diamond engagement ring valued at approximately $53,000.00. While still attempting to understand the break up, Clark received additional text messages from both her ex – fiancé and his business partner stating: “Plus you get a $50,000 parting ring. Enough for a down payment on a house.” and “Keep it up, and I will take back the ring as well.”
According to the Judge’s ruling, these two statements, amongst other factual allegations, evidenced Billittier’s intent to gift the ring to Clark. The ring was no longer deemed to be given in contemplation of marriage because he did not immediately ask for its return and also because it was referred to as a “parting gift.”
Billittier called off the wedding because he said Clark refused to sign a prenuptial agreement.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
According to New York State law, an engagement ring, given as a condition of marriage and not as a gift, must be returned to the buyer if marriage is no longer on the table. The premise of this law, is the engagement ring is a “conditional gift” – the condition that a marriage will, in fact, take place. Previous court rulings in New York have also ruled that it does not matter who broke up the engagement, if marriage is no longer on the table, and the ring was not given as a gift, it must be returned to the buyer. This is referred to as a “no-fault based approach.”
According to the ruling, Billittier’s text messages show he changed his mind about Clark keeping the ring, the judge said. Changing his mind was “giver’s remorse .” “Many gifts are given for reasons that sour with the passage of time. Once a gift is given, it is irrevocable,” Buscaglia said. The New York gift law does not allow a donor to recover or revoke a gift simply because the reasons for giving it turn sour.
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT YOU?
The laws regarding the status of an engagement ring, and requirements to give it back vary state by state. Some states, such as Texas, use a fault based approach which does not require an engagement ring to be returned if the giver calls off the marriage; however, if the recipient calls it off, they have to return the ring. If a ring is given as a gift, and a wedding is called off, the recipient gets to keep the ring. Many circumstances and facts will be taken into account to determine if a ring was given as a gift (i.e. – given on a holiday or birthday).
There are many rules of etiquette which suggest that regardless of who calls off the wedding, a recipient should always return an engagement ring if marriage is no longer on the table. If you are contemplating marriage, or contemplating a break up, please be cognizant of the laws of your state so this occasion may be handled in a smart, delicate and considerate manner, no matter the legal requirements or outcome.
Rashida Maples, Esq. is Founder and Managing Partner of J. Maples & Associates (www.jmaplesandassociates.com). She has practiced Entertainment, Real Estate and Small Business Law for 9 years, handling both transactional and litigation matters. Her clients include R&B Artists Bilal and Olivia, NFL Superstar Ray Lewis, Fashion Powerhouse Harlem’s Fashion Row and Hirschfeld Properties, LLC.
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