In recent weeks, the internet was abuzz with people talking about the woman who got to keep her engagement ring even after she and her boyfriend (and alleged fiancé) broke up. Debbie Lopez of Long Island made headlines after a court ruled that she was entitled to keep a $10,000 ring her beau, Robert Torres, gave her, even after Lopez dumped him. She dumped him, but got to keep the pricey ring? What gives?
The main issue of the case was whether or not the ring was considered a gift or an engagement ring. New York has its own laws, dating back to the 1930’s, regarding engagement rings. The original 1935 law essentially said that someone can’t be sued just for calling off an engagement. However, a 1965 amendment to the original law provided the clarification that the person who gave the ring does have the right to ask for the ring back. This law, along with many cases in the state, means that engagement rings are considered “conditional gifts.” The giver is giving the ring in contemplation of marriage.
It seems pretty clear – an engagement ring is given for the purpose of a marriage. So, if the marriage doesn’t happen, of course the giver should get the ring back, right? Not so fast! Like many laws, there are exceptions and caveats. The main exception for the New York rule is that if the giver is married at the time he/she proposes, and the engagement is later called off, the receiver is under no obligation to give back the ring. However, this recent case brought to light a situation which is probably more common than we realize – someone gives their partner a pricey ring, but doesn’t actually say the words “will you marry me?”
In Debbie Lopez’s case, there is disagreement as to how the ring was actually given. Torres claimed that he popped the question during an outing to Rockefeller Center, and even had the couple’s 6-year-old son present the ring to Lopez. However, Lopez maintained that although she was given the ring, it was never accompanied with an actual proposal of marriage. Lopez further stated that rather than a proposal, Torres gave her the ring as a gift for “being a great woman, a good mother of his child.” The Nassau County judge ruled that the ring was given as a gift and not in contemplation of marriage, which allowed Lopez to keep the ring.
Could this case be setting a precedent for future breakups? It is unclear, mainly because of the contentions as to how the ring was actually given to Lopez. A romantic and heartfelt trip at Rockefeller Center, along with the couple’s young son presenting the ring to his mother certainly seems like a proposal. All signs seemingly point to the ring being an engagement ring, but this court made it clear that a spoken proposal is needed.
Whether or not this case becomes a precedent for New York, it is important to consider just how many proposals occur without either party uttering the words, “marry me.” For those situations where a formal proposal isn’t spoken along with giving the ring, how can the parties clarify what the ring means? I always try to explain the importance of open and honest communications, no matter the circumstances. When looking at this case, the ring was given to Lopez in 2010 with the couple breaking up in 2012. In those two years, it could have benefited the couple to have a discussion on what that ring actually meant, and what each party’s expectations were. In this case this type of discussion was even more important because a child was involved. Considering how everything played out, Mr. Torres should probably consider himself lucky. The child was not so lucky.