Who Keeps the Engagement Ring After a Breakup in Australia?


Engagement rings symbolise commitment and the joyous promise of marriage. However, when a relationship ends, the once cherished ring can become a source of contention.

In Australia, the law surrounding who gets to keep the engagement ring after a breakup or divorce is not always straightforward. This piece can help you determine whether you get to keep your engagement ring or not. We’ll also explain various factors that could affect that decision.


Key Takeaways

  • Engagement rings are traditionally seen as conditional gifts in Australia, meaning they should be returned if the marriage doesn’t proceed.
  • Special circumstances, such as the giver’s infidelity or violence, or the ring being a family heirloom, can affect whether the engagement ring should be returned.
  • Family heirloom engagement rings are often expected to be returned to the original family.


Conditional vs. Unconditional Gifts

Engagement rings are traditionally seen as conditional gifts, which means they are given with the expectation of marriage. If the marriage doesn’t happen, it’s common for the ring to go back to the person who gave it. However, certain situations, like the ring giver breaking off the engagement for no good reason, could lead to the ring not being returned.

However, legal views on engagement rings have evolved. In particular circumstances, the law acknowledges that there may be a legitimate reason, or ‘legal justification’, to break off an engagement. In such cases, the engagement ring may not necessarily have to be returned.

Infidelity and Violence

Instances of violence or affairs may serve as such legal justification. According to the ruling in Papathanasopoulos v Vacopoulos, if the person who proposed shows ‘repudiatory’ behaviour like violence or infidelity, the recipient of the ring may be entitled to keep it.

Family Heirlooms

Engagement rings that are family heirlooms bring additional layers of emotional and historical significance into the equation. Wedding and engagement rings hold deep sentimental value as symbols of love and commitment in a marriage.

These rings, especially those passed down through generations, are cherished and significant and often carry an expectation of being returned to the family of origin if the marriage does not proceed.


Who keeps the engagement ring after a divorce?

The differentiation between break up scenarios, such as broken engagements and divorces, also plays a crucial role in determining who gets the ring in the case of an engagement ring. In the case of a broken engagement, the general rule in Australia is that the engagement ring should be returned if the marriage does not proceed.

When it comes to divorces, the situation is quite different. The Family Law Act of Australia considers engagement rings to be part of the property pool for distribution among married or de facto couples. Factors such as:

  • the ring’s value
  • the overall asset pool
  • the duration of the relationship or marriage
  • the contributions of each party

are all taken into account by the court during property settlement decisions. In many cases, however, the engagement ring is often left out of property settlements due to their sentimental value and the giver’s choice not to dispute ownership during negotiations.

Precedent for Returning an Engagement Ring

The case of Papathanasopoulos v Vacopoulos, where the NSW Supreme Court ruled the engagement ring to be a conditional gift. In this case, Andrew Vacopoulos won the lawsuit against his former fiancee Vicky Papathanasopoulos to recover an engagement ring or its value.

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Seeking Legal Counsel

While legal complexities cannot be overlooked, it is worth noting that amicable resolution of disputes is always possible. Effective communication and reaching a mutual agreement about the ownership of the engagement ring can greatly simplify the resolution process after a breakup.

This not only reduces emotional distress but also allows both parties to maintain control over the outcome of the engagement ring disagreement.

In cases where reaching mutual consent proves challenging, mediation offers a viable option for couples seeking to address the dispute without resorting to a legal battle.

However, despite the available options of mutual agreement and mediation, situations can get complex, and seeking legal help becomes vital. Individuals facing intricate situations with engagement rings should seek legal counsel to navigate the intricacies of Australian family law.



The issue of who retains the engagement ring after a breakup in Australia involves emotions, traditions, and legal principles. It covers topics like conditional versus unconditional gifts, legal justifications, special cases, broken engagements, divorces, family heirlooms, and the potential for negotiation and agreement.

If you find yourself in these situations, contact Clarity Family Lawyers as soon as possible. We are well-equipped to provide you individualised advice and support on engagement ring disputes.

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Samantha Miller

Samantha has been a lawyer since 2001 having followed in the steps of her father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather. No one can say she didn’t know what she was getting into!

Initially admitted in 2001 as a solicitor in NSW and Australia, Samantha moved to the UK where she was admitted as a solicitor in England and Wales in 2002. After working in several different areas of the law in large London firms, she determined that family law was her calling and hasn’t looked back.


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