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Broken Engagement – Who Gets The Ring?

engagement breakdown

After a seven-month whirlwind romance Ben Simmons, US basketball player, proposed to Maya Jama, celebrity and Love Island presenter.  Following the breakdown of the relationship the press has widely reported this week that Maya has received a legal letter demanding the return of the £800,000 engagement ring.

The end of any relationship is an emotional and stressful time for most, and this can be exacerbated when there are children to consider or joint financial obligations to resolve. Being on the receiving end of a legal letter can also be scary, so it is important to know your rights – especially when you are unmarried.

So, what is the legal position?

The legal protections afforded to married couples are unfortunately not extended to their unmarried counterparts. The most important thing unmarried couples need to be aware of is that there is no such thing as a ‘common law marriage’. You cannot acquire rights akin to a married couple throughout a relationship, unless you marry / enter into a civil partnership, regardless of the length of the relationship. Except for in exceptional circumstances, your claims are likely to be limited to any joint property you own together, and will not extend to each other’s income, pensions, property or any other assets you both own.

It is an unfortunate reality that many engaged couples do find themselves in similar situations to that of Maya Jama and Ben Simmons. When relationships do break down, in addition to resolving any joint financial obligations, one of the most frequent questions we are asked as family solicitors is:

What happens to the engagement ring?

Whether the ring be Tiffany, Cartier, Beaverbrooks or from a Christmas cracker this is one area in which there is some legal certainty. Under the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970, the engagement ring is presumed to be an absolute gift whether or not the marriage takes place.

However, this presumption can be rebutted if one party can show that the ring was given on the express or implied condition that it should be returned if the marriage didn’t take place.

In many cases these rings can be purchased on credit and, long after the engagement has broken down, one person remains liable for paying off the debt. This situation can give rise to very disgruntled disputes.

Rights to the ring get even more complex when it is a family heirloom or has significant value. Can you imagine the implications of being presented with the diamond-encrusted sapphire the Duchess of Cambridge was given and then breaking off the engagement? Likely the Royal Family had their legal agreements in place!

In most cases, it will ultimately be a question of fact. Did the parties have conversations about what would happen if the marriage didn’t take place? Did they reach an agreement? Has anything been recorded in writing? In this particular case, the onus will be on Ben to show that the engagement ring was not an absolute gift. Perhaps it would have been beneficial to have a legal agreement in place when a ring of this value is involved.

It is always beneficial for separating couples to try and reach an agreement outside of the court arena. Ben Simmons’ decision to involve lawyers does not necessarily mean he wants a fight. Solicitors are often brought in to help reach an agreement, allowing the parties to keep some distance and keep any emotional distress to a minimum. Litigation should always be a last resort, as it can be very expensive and stressful, and may also have an impact on any children of the family. Most cases do not involve £800,000 worth of jewellery, and any decision to litigate must be proportionate to what’s at stake.

If you are considering engagement or marriage and have concerns over your assets or wealth protection or indeed you are suffering the consequences of a relationship breakdown, please contact one of our specialist family law solicitors for advice.

For specialist advice on any family law related issue contact Maguire Family Law by email: or telephone:

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