Ask the County Law Librarian – Who gets the Engagement Ring in a Break-up?
Q. I have been with my girlfriend for a long time and we got engaged on Valentine’s Day. I saw text messages on her phone I didn’t like and asked her about it. Now she says I am jealous and broke off the engagement, but she won’t give me the ring back, even though I asked her a bunch of times. How can I make her give me the ring back since she is the one who broke my heart?
A. Sorry to hear about your situation, break ups can be hard on everyone. Believe me you are not the first person with this issue. In fact, California has enacted a law that covers this topic. The California Civil Code § 1590 states:
Where either party to a contemplated marriage in this State makes a gift of money or property to the other on the basis or assumption that the marriage will take place, in the event that the donee refuses to enter into the marriage as contemplated or that it is given up by mutual consent, the donor may recover such gift or such part of its value as may, under all of the circumstances of the case, be found by a court or jury to be just.
The donee is the person who is receiving the ring, while the donor is the person giving the ring.
If after reading the law, you still feel you are entitled to the ring, you should ask for it back in writing with a demand letter. You can get help writing your demand later on the California Courts Self-Help Website. If she still refuses, you may need to take your case to Small Claims Court, where you can sue for return of the ring or for its value up to $10,000. However, if you were a big spender, and the ring is worth more than that, you may want to pursue your case in Superior Court, where there is no limit.
For more information on Small Claims, at the law library, we suggest reading Everybody’s Guide to Small Claims Court in California, a very useful book on the small claims process. Every county in California has a Small Claims Advisor that can assist you with your case free of charge. You can find county-specific court information, including how to contact your Small Claims Advisor, at http://www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-advisors.htm.
You can always do more in-depth research at the Sacramento County Public Law Library. The law library has print and electronic resources and expert reference law librarians are available to assist you. You may wish to begin your in-depth research with a book that discusses this issue in more detail, such as Witkin’s Summary of California Law. Volume 13 contains the topic, “Personal Property,” and § 154 is titled “Revocation of Gift in Contemplation of Marriage.”
Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email firstname.lastname@example.org. If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.