Breaking Off an Engagement in Pennsylvania

Historically, engagements were about as legally binding as a marriage. Today, though, engagements are very different. Ending an engagement is not as complicated as a divorce, but does have some complicated legal principles to account for. Our Philadelphia divorce lawyers explain some basic points about recovering wedding-related expenses after an engagement is broken off in Pennsylvania, including what happens to your engagement ring and the money you spent on wedding planning services. 

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What Happens to Engagement Rings in a Breakup?

We recently wrote about what happens when unmarried couples break up, but things are a bit different with engagements. Specifically, engagements usually involve an engagement ring and wedding plans that may be fully or partially paid-for at the time of the breakup. If your engagement ended in the middle of planning a wedding, you might need to talk to a lawyer about your options to recover expenses. To talk to experienced family law attorneys in the greater Philadelphia area, call the Sadek & Cooper Law Offices at 215-814-0395.

One of the first questions many couples face when they break off an engagement is “Who gets to keep the ring?” In movies and on TV, the woman throwing the ring back at the man is a common trope, but it is a good way to remember Pennsylvania’s law.

In Pennsylvania, an engagement ring is considered a “conditional gift.” In the typical scenario, one party gives the other an engagement ring and requests that they marry them, sometime in the future. This gifting process is only completed when the wedding takes place. If there is no wedding, this gift is not complete. Other states look to which party was at fault for the break-up, but Pennsylvania’s system does not take fault into consideration at all.

Since the gift-giving is only complete if the couple actually gets married, the gift still belongs to the gift-giver until that happens. That means when an engagement ends in Pennsylvania, the person who gave the engagement ring should get it back. Traditionally, this would mean the man gets it back, but not every couple has a man who gave a ring. Whoever the ring-giver is, regardless of gender, the law should still enforce the ring’s return.

Some couples may decide to give each other rings. There is no case law that specifically addresses this in Pennsylvania, but the law should still treat it as a conditional gift.

Of course, if the couple decides that the recipient should keep the ring, their agreement could override this law. If you are in doubt as to who gets the ring, consult a family law attorney.

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Can I Get a Refund for Cancelled Wedding Plans?

Wedding planning can be extremely expensive today. Often, your vendors and venues all require signed contracts and down-payments. If the wedding does not go through, you may find yourself losing your down payments and other money you have already paid to plan your day. If one party is responsible for the breakup, can they be made to pay for it?

For you, ending an engagement and cancelling a wedding may be devastating, but vendors and wedding venues see this happen more than you think. They may even plan for it, which is obvious in the wording of some of their contracts. Hopefully, you will be able to get your deposits back, but there is often no guarantee.

Sometimes, the couple is not the only one paying for the wedding. Often, parents and other family members may be partly or fully responsible for the wedding costs. When this happens, and an engagement ends, the whole process can become even more complicated.

Ultimately, there is no Pennsylvania statute that dictates what to do, so it is up to the courts. Depending on the facts surrounding how the couple decided who will pay, courts could come out different ways on the issue. If there was an agreement between the couple as to how the cost would be split, then the other may be held to that cost-splitting agreement. In other cases, one party may have been planning to pay, but they were the party who ended the plans. In that case, it may be unfair for them to collect anything from the other party, since they were responsible for ending it.

If a third party (like a parent) was paying for the wedding, that cost may have been a conditional gift to the couple. Gifts given to a couple could, like the engagement ring, be considered conditional gifts that may need to be returned if the engagement falls through. The money a parent or other party spends to pay for the wedding could work the same way, and that third party might have a case against the couple for recovery if they call off the wedding.

Ultimately, this kind of issue is very case-specific, and you cannot get a firm answer without speaking to an attorney about your specific case.

Pennsylvania Family Law Lawyers

The Pennsylvania family law attorneys of the Sadek & Cooper Law Offices can help you figure out who is responsible for paying when the engagement falls through. We can also take your case to court to help enforce your rights against your former fiancé(e). To speak with our experienced attorneys confidentially, call our law offices at 215-814-0395 for a free legal consultation.

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