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The Rule of Rings

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The Rule of Rings

Engagement Ring

“But it was a gift!” The newly unengaged woman called asking whether the engagement ring, freely given to her by her now-ex-fiancé, was hers to keep. I was the bearer of bad news: the ring had to be returned.

Engagement rings, a symbol of the promise of a lifetime of unconditional love, can become hotly contested items if that promise is broken. Gifts are generally irrevocable – one cannot simply take back a gift. However, conditional gifts are things given based upon a promise or event happening, similar to a contract. These are quite common in the world of churches, charities, and other nonprofits. People donate money and property frequently and place all kinds of conditions upon its use – such as it must be used for a certain project or the donor’s name must be on the project. 

Ohio follows the “rule of rings,” which views engagement rings as conditional gifts. Not many people, however, formally lay out the exchange of the ring for a promise to marry, as even courts recognize “how unromantic such a requirement would be.” The simple presentation of the ring (whether or not it is accompanied with the magic words of “Will you marry me?”) is enough for courts to reason that acceptance of the ring carries along with the promise of marriage. 

Other gifts, say horses, tanning beds, or even home improvements (yes, all those are from one real case), are not conditional when given to a fiancé. Those a person can keep, even if they never make it to the altar. But the ring goes back.


Nikki Hamsher

Attorney At Law


1 Cooper v. Smith, 2003-, ¶ 24.

2 Id.

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