A $1 million diamond engagement ring is at the center of the high-profile clash between NBA pro Ben Simmons and British TV personality Maya Jama.
The new Love Island (UK) host, 28, broke off their year-long engagement in December, prompting the forlorn 26-year-old Brooklyn Nets forward to send his ex-fiancée a formal legal notice to get the ring back.
While initial reporting points to an equitable solution, with Jama saying through her representatives that she will return the ring, the bigger question is "Does she legally have to?"
There is no uniform law in the US or Canada regarding the return of engagement rings after a breakup. In fact, the case law regarding this subject is murky, at best.
The Alabama Court of Appeals, for example, recently ruled that an engagement ring given on the condition of marriage must be returned to the giver if the relationship fails.
In Montana, engagement rings are seen as “absolute gifts,” so the recipient can keep it whether the couple goes through with the marriage or not.
According to an article posted by Virginia-based law firm SmolenPlevy, most states view an engagement ring as a semi-contract, or a “conditional gift.”
In this view, the ring is given with the understanding that the couple will get married in the future and symbolizes a verbal contract. Ownership of the ring is not fully transferred until the wedding ceremony is completed.
A few jurisdictions, explained SmolenPlevy, take a slightly different view, calling the ring an “implied gift.”
In this case, ownership of the ring is determined by whomever calls off the wedding. If the giver breaks it off, he or she is not entitled to the ring, and it becomes a gift. If the receiver breaks off the engagement, the giver can ask for the ring back.
Ownership of the ring can also be complicated by whether the ring was a family heirloom, or whether it was given as a “gift” on a holiday or birthday, for example.
The non-legal, but traditional, etiquette calls for the engagement ring to be returned to the giver if the recipient breaks the relationship, or if the breakup was mutual. If the giver is responsible for the breakup, the receiver controls the destiny of the ring.
A 2015 survey conducted by findlaw.com revealed that 78% of Americans believe the person who gave the engagement ring is entitled to get it back, if they want it. Twenty-two percent said the recipient should keep it.
Interestingly, the survey data hardly varied between male and female respondents, or their current marital status of single, married or divorced.
The best way to avoid costly, emotional and drawn-out litigation, according to SmolenPlevy, is to enter into a prenuptial or premarital agreement, which outlines clearly who will get the ring if the wedding never takes place. This agreement also can cover what happens to the ring if the couple gets married but later divorces.
If it's too late for a prenup, consider talking to a local family law attorney, who can explain how courts in your area have ruled regarding the fate of engagement rings.
Credit: Image by BigStockPhoto.com.