Remember when, in the wonder that was Series 2 of The Bachelor, Blake just weeks after dropping to one knee, and presenting Sam with a gorgeous Bunda engagement ring, dumped her?
Most people’s minds probably turned to issues of morality and the pain sometimes associated with love. As a lawyer, mine instead turned to the more imminent, practical question, “Is she legally allowed to keep that sparkler?”.
In determining the answer to that question, a two-step approach is required. Firstly, does the Family Law Act apply? If not, when Blake gave Sam the ring, what were the terms of the agreement?
The Family Law Act would apply if the couple in question were in a de facto relationship at law when the ring was given. Here, the ring would likely be deemed ‘an asset’ and as such, be available for distribution between the parties in the usual manner.
When the Court distributes property from this available pool, they consider a number of factors including the length of the parties relationship, and the degree to which they were financially interdependent on one another. The Court’s approach is the same whether the distribution is ‘global’ or on an asset by asset basis.
If the Act does not apply, then the common law comes into play. Although this is not a settled area at law, it appears that the law sees an engagement ring as a ‘conditional gift.’
What this means is that Sam could keep the engagement ring if and only if, the wedding took place, and she wasn’t the one who called it off. It is implied into the relevant agreement between her and Blake.
In one case, the poor groom-to-be did not want to end the relationship. But his partner wasn’t interested and eventually threw the ring into the garbage bin. The judge found that the woman, having rejected the gift of the ring, breached the applicable agreement and was ordered to pay her broken hearted ex-lover the monetary equivalent of the ring’s value, plus costs.
The Judge held that the applicable legal principles were that when a woman has received a ring in contemplation of marriage, and then refuses to walk down the aisle, she must return it. This is because she has failed to fulfill the conditions of the gift.
Crucially for Sam, the Judge also held that in the absence of a recognised legal justification, the man could not demand the engagement ring’s return if he refused to carry out his promise of marriage.
Although Sam had not been in a de facto relationship with Blake (she had only known him a few months while production took place), she was wronged (so wronged!). So after careful examination of the applicable law, I was happy to conclude that Sam was legally entitled to the ring and entitled to sell it for her own gain.
A happy ending after all, it seems.