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What happens if an engagement is broken?

There is no legislation in Canada that deals with broken engagements. Unless you were in a relationship that is legally recognized as common-law, or you had a cohabitation agreement in place that gives some entitlements, there is little you may be entitled to if the engagement ends.

If there has been some type of specific loss due to the broken engagement, a person may be able to bring an action for damages.

Breach of promise

This is an old concept within common law, dating back hundreds of years. The breach usually occurred if the man failed to go through with the marriage and then the woman could sue.

Provincial law actually had “breach of promise”, and you could sue for it, but provinces like British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario have done away with it, and Saskatchewan removed breach of promise in 2010.

What happens with the engagement ring?

There is little legislative guidance within the provinces and territories that deal with who gets the engagement ring if an engagement is called off.

The question that courts tend to examine when they have a case of ‘who gets the engagement ring” is: is the ring a conditional gift?

Some courts have held the engagement ring to be a conditional gift. Meaning that who got the ring depended upon who ended the engagement, because the ring is seen as a symbol of an agreement to marry.

This was actually the approach in Ontario. A case that followed that logic in Ontario was Okhai v. Sharify. Again, the assumption in such cases was that rings are given in contemplation of marriage.

However, there is also a second school of court cases in Ontario that looks at the engagement ring as an unconditional gift. That means once the ring has been given, it cannot be repossessed, because the ring becomes the property of the person who receives it once it’s delivered, regardless who ends up breaking the engagement.

Though Ontario has a general rule over gifts after broken engagements is that the donee return the gift, regardless of who broke the engagement, the case law does not necessarily follow that rule.

In British Columbia, most cases over who gets the engagement ring look at the engagement ring more in line of a contractual agreement. The ring should be given back “in order to put the couple back to the positions they were in before the engagement.”

Though family law varies from one province/territory to another province/territory, and who gets the engagement ring seems to depend on the court deciding the case, as there seems to be little clear guidance given by legislation.

It’s always a good idea to consult with a family lawyer in your province or territory if a dispute arises about an engagement ring after an engagement has been called off. In any case, if an engagement is broken and there may be financial claims, a lawyer should be consulted.

Read more:

About Marriages in Canada

The Engagement Ring: Whose Property is it?