by David J. Pigott, Esq.
Gentlemen, if you’ve been with your significant other for a while, you might be thinking about popping the question. You might even be thinking about doing it on Valentine’s Day. While one recent survey suggests that many women would cherish a Valentine’s Day proposal, there are plenty of reasons why Valentine’s Day might not be the best idea. I’m going to add one more… if things go south, you might not get the ring back.
I’m sure the last thing you want to think about right now is a busted engagement, but it’s a possibility; and, if you’re motivation for proposing is due (in part) to the pressure to do something romantic on Valentine’s Day, the odds are that much greater. Assuming you’re spending a few bucks on the engagement ring (of course you are), you’re going to want that puppy back if you discover she’s not your Buttercup prior to the Wedding.
Under Colorado law, an engagement ring is a gift. There is a clear an unmistakable intention to make the gift (you down on one knee holding up a giant diamond), there is acceptance of the gift (her saying “yes!”), and there is an actual transfer of property (you sliding the ring onto her finger).
Having said that, under Colorado law, an engagement ring is a conditional gift. The giving of the gift is conditioned upon marriage. If the marriage never happens, the act of giving the gift is never completed, and you can ask for the ring back.
So, why might a Valentine’s Day proposal screw this up? Because a Valentine’s Day proposal (or a proposal on any gift-giving holiday) allows one to argue that the engagement ring was not aconditional gift but an absolute gift given as an expression of love for that particular holiday and nothing else. Odds are, such an argument would fail if actually tested in Court; but, why take chances? You can guard against the worst case scenario and not be lame simply by proposing on a non-holiday.
Here’s another reason to make sure you’re proposing to the right person: if you are the giver of the engagement ring, and it’s your fault the wedding never happens (the condition upon which the gift of the engagement ring is based), you may not get the ring back. Fault, in this case, is hard to prove. Even if you’re the one who says “we probably shouldn’t get married,” the Court is going to see that as a mutual agreement and dictate the return of the ring. Fault usually involves some type of impropriety like abuse; but, again, why take chances? Be sure.
While we’re on the subject, don’t propose in Montana, either. In 2002, the Montana Supreme Court declared an engagement ring to be an absolute gift no matter what. If you propose in Montana, the ring belongs to your fiancé the instant you give it. No takeses backses. Ever.
Generally speaking, etiquette and legal precedent in most states (including Colorado) dictate the return of an engagement ring if the marriage doesn’t take place. The absolute gift exception is going to be incredibly hard to prove even if the proposal came on a holiday. Fault is also going to be very difficult to prove even if you’re the one who breaks off the engagement. Nevertheless, be smart (and romantic). Propose someplace in non-Montana at a time that means something to you and your soon-to-be betrothed not Hallmark.
Dave, ignoring his own advice, proposed to his girlfriend Charlie on Mother’s day of last year. The two are set to be married on March 17th, so he will be out of the office from March 14th – March 27th. The rest of the firm will be around for any questions that may come up during that time!