Although the bride need not actually run away like Julia Roberts or Jennifer Wilbanks, couples get engaged and break it off all the time. Many times the bride will show her revocation by handing the ring back, but does the groom have a right to get the ring back? (Please note that everything below applies equally to men and women, but this article will be gender biased because although men runaway as much as women—their rings are typically not expensive enough to chase after.)
The law varies on this from state to state. In some states it’s a gift and the person receiving the ring gets to keep it no matter what. In California it’s a gift given conditional upon actually going through with the marriage. California Civil Code § 1590:
Where either party to a contemplated marriage in this State makes a gift of money or property to the other on the basis or assumption that the marriage will take place, in the event that the done refuses to enter into the marriage as contemplated or that it is given up by mutual consent, the donor may recover such gift or such part of its value as may, under all of the circumstances of the case, be found by a court or jury to be just.
So, if the ring is given in California, then the one who gave it gets it back if the other refuses to go through with it, or if they mutually agree not to, but what about if the donor cancels? If the giver of the ring calls things off, then she gets to keep the ring.
To complicate matters, the state law that governs is typically the law of the state in which the couple was located when the ring was original gifted. Many times couples propose on vacation, so this complicates matters.
Couples can sign a prenuptial agreement detailing who gets to keep the ring if they fail to marry and also if the marriage fails. There is something really icky about trying to get the ring back, but if it’s a $73,000 ring…I’m feeling a lot less icky about it.