Married Man Proposes and Gives Engagement Ring to Girlfriend - Then Wants it Back!
Before we discuss what happens when a married man proposes marriage and gives an engagement ring to his girlfriend on the side, let’s review the law on engagement rings. In short, an engagement ring is a gift given on condition that marriage occurs between the donor and the donee – in this case the guy and girl respectively. If the marriage does not occur, for any reason including if either party backs out, the condition is not met, and the engagement ring must be returned. But if the marriage occurs the condition is met, and it becomes a completed gift and the sole and exclusive property of the donee. By the way, if the parties later divorce, the engagement ring is the premarital and separate property of the wife; she keeps the engagement ring in the divorce because it was a gift to her prior to the marriage. By way of contrast, gifts between spouses are presumptively marital property that is divided during the divorce according to the law on equitable distribution. But let’s get back to the facts of this case.
Here are the facts: (yes this really happened). Guy meets girl on Match.com. The guy’s profile claims he is divorced. The guy and the girl start living together. Guy proposes to girl and gives her a diamond engagement ring along with a matching diamond pendant necklace and matching diamond earrings. The girl accepts the guy’s marriage proposal and takes possession of the ring, necklace, and earrings. The couple set a wedding date. The guy asks the girl to sign a prenuptial agreement. The girl’s attorney discovers that the guy is still married! The girl then cancels the wedding, moves out of the guy’s house, and takes the engagement ring, necklace, and earrings with her.
The guy sues the girl for replevin, conversion, and unjust enrichment. He wants the engagement ring and jewelry back. During the trial, the guy admits that he was not divorced and that he did not tell the girl that he was still married because “it was a personal thing” and he “didn't think it was that important...” Love it! The Judge hears all the evidence and then is ready to decide the case.
Who do you think gets the engagement ring, necklace, and earrings?
The girl! That’s because, according to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, in Campbell v. Jian Tang, 2023 Pa. Super. LEXIS 304, the guy did not have the capacity to marry the girl and in fact did not have the capacity to propose marriage to her because he was married at the time of the proposal and was still married at the time of the intended wedding date. The Court concluded that the engagement was void ab initio (meaning it was void from the start) and thus the gift that the guy gave the girl was not conditioned on marriage, because marriage was legally impossible, and thus the gift was unconditional and as such it was completed upon delivery to the girl. In the end, the girl keeps the jewelry!
If you have any questions about family law, please do not hesitate to contact Scaringi Law at 717-657-7770.