The Law in Ohio on Whether or Not You Have to Return an Engagement Ring in the Event of a Breakup

Gifts given "in contemplation of marriage" have their own special category in Ohio law.  Ohio law varies quite a bit on the subject of whether the recipient of an engagement ring or other gift given in contemplation of marriage has to be returned if the engagement is broken off.  The law may be different depending on what county in Ohio you live in, so there is a good bit of variability on the subject.  If there is one general consensus across the various appellate districts in Ohio, it is, for the most part, that an engagement ring is a gift expressly conditioned on a subsequent marriage.  The conditional nature of other gifts given in contemplation of marriage is different county to county across Ohio.

The approach in Franklin County was decided in the 1995 case of Sigrist v. Lyons, 100 Ohio App.3d 252, 653 N.E.2d 744, where the Court decided that "where a gift is given with a mutual understanding that the parties would be married and the gift would benefit the marriage, then if the parties do not marry, unjust enrichment requires the gift be returned."  Accordingly, in Columbus and all throughout Franklin County, any gift given in contemplation of marriage must be returned under unjust enrichment principals if the engagement is broken off.  The big caveat here is that the gift must benefit the marriage, which means that it must benefit the relationship in the future, not just right now or not just during the engagement period.  This would tend to rule out smaller or more trivial gifts and include bigger, more permanent or longer lasting gifts, like furniture, appliances, vehicle, a new house, etc.

Another approach around Ohio is to treat all gifts exchanged during the engagement period as revocable gifts.  See Cooper v. Smith, 155 Ohio App.3d 218, 800 N.E.2d 372 (Ohio App. 4th Dist., 2003).  

A third approach treats only an engagement ring as a gift conditioned upon subsequent marriage, but all other gifts given during the engagement period are treated as irrevocable unless they were given only on the express condition of subsequent marriage.  

The fourth and fifth approaches are similar.  The fourth approach around Ohio says that the donor can recover a gift given during an engagement unless the donor unjustifiably broke off the engagement.  This approach appeals to a sense of justice in a way to where a person can get the gifts back unless they "wronged" their fiance/ee.  However, this approach poses a pretty big problem in having to prove whether breaking off the engagement was truly unjustifiable or if there were good reasons.  Things can get a bit hairy having to prove those kinds of things, which is why the fifth approach is the "no fault" approach.  

Under the fifth, no fault, approach in Ohio, gifts given in contemplation of marriage are returned to the donor if the marriage does not occur, regardless of who is at fault in ending the engagement.  See Lyle v. Durham (1984), 16 Ohio App.3d 1, 473 N.E.2d 1216.  

Franklin county most closely follows the fifth approach, that any gift given in contemplation of marriage is conditional, so long as the gift would benefit the marriage.  Many other counties around Ohio follow the third approach, that only an engagement ring is returnable if the relationship fails, but not the other gifts.  Many other counties around Ohio still have not made a final binding decision on the matter.  In those counties, the courts would consider whatever approaches were proposed to them and make whatever decision made the most sense for that particular situation.

If you or a close loved one has been experiencing some relationship trouble, you can reach out to a divorce and family law attorney at Harris & Engler by calling (614) 610-9988 or emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  
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