Division Of Property Upon Separation After Engagement
The law attaches little significance to engagement and it is only when a couple come to marry that the law lays down detailed requirements as to their status and age. There are therefore no legal formalities required for engagement because an agreement to marry has no legal effect and cannot be enforced by the Courts.
If a couple receive gifts upon engagement but the wedding is subsequently cancelled, the gifts generally ought to be returned to the people who gave them. The law assumes that the gifts were given on the understanding that the couple were to be married and so if the marriage is called off, they are no longer entitled to the presents.
However, it is often the case that the people who have given the gifts do not want them returned. At this stage the law usually allows each party to keep the gifts given by their respective friends and relatives.
The same principle applies to gifts made by the couple to each other. The law assumes the gifts were conditional upon the marriage taking place and so should be returned if the marriage is called off.
The only exception is the engagement ring. Traditionally, the female can nearly always hold on to this even if she is the one that has called off the wedding.
The Court may order her to return the ring if, for example, it was a family heirloom and it was given to her on the clear understanding that if she did not become a member of the family, the ring was to be returned.
If a gift was not given on condition of the marriage, ie for a birthday or Christmas, these gifts would normally not have to be returned.
If the engaged couple buy a property together before the wedding and when the wedding is cancelled the couple cannot agree on what to do with the property, the Court will normally order it to be sold.
After paying off the mortgage, estate agent and solicitors fees, the remaining balance would be divided between the couple. The amount received by each party would depend upon their percentage share in the house. It is often split 50/50 unless there is clear evidence for dividing it in some other way.
Similar rules apply to furniture and other possessions bought by the couple. If they cannot agree, a Court Order can be obtained for the sale of the items, although it is always best to seek full legal advice before issuing any proceedings at Court.
This article was produced on the 6th April 2010 by our Family & Children team for information purposes only and should not be construed or relied upon as specific legal advice.