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Broken Engagement in Germany: Engagement Ring must be returned

May a bride keep the engagement ring under German family law rules?

German law is very simple in regards to what happens to engagement gifts (especially engagement rings) if the the wedding is called off: They must be returned. Section 1301 German Civil Code (BGB) states:

Section 1301: Return of the presents

If the marriage does not take place, each engaged person may require the other to return what the former gave as a present or as a sign of the engagement, under the provisions on the return of unjust enrichment. In case of doubt it should be assumed that the claim for return is to be excluded if the engagement ends as a result of the death of one of the engaged persons.

In this context, it does not matter who has broken the engagement and whether one party is at fault. The wedding ring and other present which have been made because of the engagement must be returned. Period. Things are a bit more complicated in Common Law jurisdictions, where the bride is often allowed to keep the engagement ring (see here, here and here). Still, most western states nowadays follow the no-fault, conditional gift approach and award the engagement ring to the giver in case of a broken engagement.

So, this is all very simple and straight-forward under German Family Law, which always considers an engagement ring as a “conditional gift”. However, if the engagement was between a British and a German, or between a US citizen and a German, the big question is whether German, US or English law applies to the engagement, and to the respective gift. Also, how does the Claimant prove that the couple was actually engaged to be married in the sense of German Civil Law (see section 1297 German Civil Code) and that the ring was really an engagement ring, not just an unconditional “regular” gift. Finally, the big question is whether it is worth going to court over this with the additional risk of having to enforce a German Family Court order abroad if the bride (now) lives outside Germany? In practice, this is only worth considering if the ring (and other gifts) have significant value.

More on German Family Law, in particular on marriage, divorce and child custody rules in these posts:

Or simply click on the “Family Law” section in the right column of this blog.

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The law firm Graf & Partners and its German-English forensic services and litigation department GP Chambers was established in 2003 and has many years of experience with British-German and US-German family law and probate matters, including the representation of clients in German litigation and arbitration proceedings. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border legal matter please contact German solicitor Bernhard Schmeilzl, LL.M. (Leicester) at +49 941 463 7070.