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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Minnesota Lawyer blog -- Valentine's Day edition

Seven years ago the Minnesota Court of Appeals grappled with what promised to be a very engaging question -- what was to become of a $24,000 ring after an engagement was broken?

The beau was a chiropractor who had struck up a romantic relationship with one of the employees at his clinic. One thing led to another, and they were engaged and moved in together. But, as you may have guessed from the intro to this post, things went south from there.

According to fiancee, the chiropractor began coming home late at night under the influence of alcohol “with lipstick on his face and clothes.” They broke up, but continued to work together. Not surprisingly, things got a bit dicey at the office, particularly when the ex-fiancee started dating someone else. After she went to Jamaica on vacation with her new paramour, the woman discovered that her old one had completely restructured her salary structure. She went from making $100K/ year guaranteed to about $25K/year on a productivity-based system. After a subsequent confrontation on another issue, the chiropractor fired his ex.

There was, of course, a lawsuit brought on a variety of grounds that are easy to imagine. All that that concerns me today is the part about the engagement ring. Who would get this rather pricey bauble? The allegedly philandering ex-boyfriend or the ex-fiancee who was suddenly in need of a job?

If you guessed the alleged philanderer ... give yourself a pat on the back. In Benassi v. Back & Neck Pain Clinic, Inc., the Court of Appeals determined the ring was a conditional gift given in contemplation of marriage. The marriage never having taken place, the ring must be returned. Pointing out that Minnesota is a no-fault divorce state, the court went on to find that fault does not enter into the equation in determining who gets the ring. The giver gets it back regardless of how boorish his behavior may have been. (The majority of jurisdictions would have determined ownership of the ring on the basis of fault.)

So bad boyfriends rejoice! And if that special someone should give you an engagement ring for Valentine's Day, we humbly offer the following piece of advice: Give them back a dollar as consideration. It's not romantic -- and a court probably wouldn't enforce "the contract" in the event of a breakup -- but in the words of Cupid, it's worth a shot.


rew said...

I seemed to remember miss manners saying the woman should keep the ring. This made me start googling dangerously, where I found this comprehensive guide to wedding ring rules through the ages...


the best part is the end:

"These days, most courts rule that an engagement ring is a gift conditional upon marriage and require that the woman give it back even if the man called off the wedding.

So there's only one way to be assured of keeping the ring: Marry the guy. After marriage, courts consider an engagement ring the woman's property."

Anonymous said...

Ironically, those same courts once considered the woman the man's property after marriage. How the times change ...