Nova Scotia

Who owns an engagement ring when a relationship goes south?

Who owns an engagement ring if there's no marriage? The answer is not an easy one.

Devin Sherrington had sued his would-be bride in small claims court for a $19K diamond ring


When it comes to love, the etiquette for ending it is not always clear.

Two former lovebirds recently found this out the hard way in a dispute over an engagement ring that took the pair to small claims court in Nova Scotia.

A Halifax adjudicator ruled this week that Lauren Arbuckle, a hair stylist and makeup artist, should keep her $19,000 engagement ring after her relationship ended with fiancé Devin Sherrington, a personal trainer.

Sherrington sued his would-be bride for the 3.25 carat diamond ring.

The two had planned to marry in 2016, but Sherrington postponed the wedding when he felt the cost was getting to be too much, small claims adjudicator Gregg Knudsen said in a written ruling released Wednesday.

Engagement rings have been the subject of lawsuits before and the courts appear divided on whether a ring is a gift or symbolic of a contract to get married.

According to Knudsen's ruling, the accepted legal test for the past 100 years has been that whoever broke off the engagement essentially forfeits his or her right to the ring.

But in terms of etiquette, especially in a complex case such as this one, things can get murky.

Is it a gift or part of a contract?

Chantal Heide, a dating coach based in Ontario and author of several books on dating and relationships, said in her opinion the ring belongs to whoever paid for it.

"[The ring] was given in the hope that there would be a marriage. If there's no marriage, then there's no engagement, therefore no engagement ring," said Heide.

In this case, text messages were presented showing that Sherrington said Arbuckle could keep the ring.

"But I saw in this case that after the engagement was broken off, he said you can keep the ring, at which time it becomes a gift," she said.

A few weeks after Sherrington texted Arbuckle that she could keep the ring, he contacted her again and told her he still owned the engagement ring and wanted it back.

According to text messages admitted as evidence in the case, Arbuckle had originally wanted to elope but Sherrington wanted "a party." When the costs of the wedding started to add up, Sherrington decided to postpone the wedding, but not before it was too late to recoup some of the wedding costs.

When planning a wedding it's important to make intentions clear and discuss money and budgets honestly. (Getty Images)

Discuss what you can afford

Heide said when deciding to marry someone, it's important to make intentions clear and discuss money and budgets honestly.

"He asked her to marry him, she wanted to elope. He wanted the big wedding and then as they got into the planning of it, the costs were escalating, he got cold feet, decided he didn't want to get married anymore, but then said you can keep the ring but then sued her for the ring," she said.

"So, first of all, know who you're marrying before you even get engaged."

With money being a major stressor on couples, Heide said it's important to consider a wedding you can afford.

"Make it something that you can pay off within a year if you're going to go in debt, because I really don't think starting off with a huge debt when you're starting a marriage is a great way to kind of keep it sane."

She said a lot of that pressure to spend on weddings isn't necessarily from family, friends or society, but from how people think a wedding should look.

"We see weddings nowadays as, basically, a social status symbol, and the bigger the better," said Heide. "It's become less of a ceremony and more of a spectacle in our society."

With files from The Canadian Press