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The Law on Engagement Rings in Texas

Recently, we had a question asked about whether an engagement ring is required to be returned if the marriage does not occur.  The answer depends on who is responsible "for breaching the promise to marry."

A leading case on this issue comes from the Third Court of Appeals (link below) in Curtis v. Anderson, 106 S.W.3d 251.  The court begins its analysis by citing section 1.108 of the Texas Family Code, which provides: "A promise or agreement on consideration of marriage or nonmarital conjugal cohabitation is not enforceable unless the promise or agreement or a memorandum of the promise or agreement is in writing and signed by the person obliged by the promise or agreement."

However, even though this section of the Family Code requires agreements to be in writing, the 3rd Court of Appeals went on to analyze the "conditional gift" rule, which was stated in previous decisions in 1942 and 1965 as "A gift to a person to whom the donor is engaged to be married, made in contemplation of marriage, although absolute in form, is conditional; and on breach of the marriage engagement by the donee the property may be recovered by the donor."

The Court determined that this rule requires analysis of who is at fault in the breakup of the relationship, and the court noted that this fault requirement is not an issue in other states.  However, fault remains a central factor in Texas, which will resolve the issue of whether a ring must be returned.

In the Curtis the decision, the proposer was the one who decided to end the engagement, and thus the Court concluded that he was responsible "for breaching the promise to marry."  Therefore, she got to keep the ring.  It is unclear to what extent a court will delve into the personal relationship of litigants to resolve the issue of fault, but nevertheless this issue is central to resolving any legal dispute about the return of an engagement ring.  

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