Modern Morals: I broke off my engagement after my fiancé cheated on me. Do I have to return the ring?

By Katie Byrne for

Question: I broke off my engagement a few months ago when I discovered my partner of six years had cheated on me. He gave me a ring that cost approximately €10,000 and now he’s demanding I give it back to him.

He took out a loan to pay for the ring so part of me feels that I should give it back. But the other part of me feels like I’m justified in keeping it.

My dad paid a deposit for our wedding venue, which we’re struggling to get returned. Plus, I paid for most of the furnishings and decor in the home that we shared together.

My family says I should consider the ring a small compensation for what I’ve been through, but my ex is now threatening legal action.

What should I do?

Answer: Trying to rebuild your life after a break-up is hard, but trying to rebuild your life after an engagement break-up is even harder. You’re probably craving some privacy right now, but instead, you have to deal with vendors, guests and the ignominy of a very public break-up.

From your letter, I understand you have two questions. Firstly, you want to know what your rights are from a legal perspective and, secondly, you want to know what you should do from an ethical perspective.

For legal advice, I shared your dilemma with Lisa Mc Kenna, Principal Solicitor at Mc Kenna & Co Solicitors.

She says the money spent on a ring cannot be recovered by the person who gifted it unless a loan agreement was drawn up by the giftor and the giftee specifically for its purchase.

“If the loan taken out is in the name of the giftor only, then the loan belongs to him and the giftee has no legal obligation to pay the loan or return the ring that he gave her,” she says.

till, while you’re under no legal obligation to return the ring, we ought to remember that legal and ethical standards are not the same thing.

Common etiquette is often a good guide to ethical behaviour, but in this case, there are no hard-and-fast rules.

Celina Murphy, Editor of online wedding magazine One Fab Day, agrees there’s no definitive answer. “You’re really making up your own rules,” she says.

“In terms of her dad’s investment in the wedding venue deposit, it would be fair to ask her ex to contribute 50pc towards any money that can’t be recouped, as a wedding is a celebration with two people at the centre of it and it follows that the couple should share the expense equally, regardless of whether the wedding is going ahead or not.”

The engagement ring is a trickier matter to decide upon, she says. “On one hand, it was a gift, and, by definition, gifts are given absolutely, with no expectation that they’ll be returned. On the other hand, the ring was a symbol of a marriage that now won’t be going ahead, so the meaning behind it has shifted.”

I also shared your dilemma with Cork-based psychotherapist Tom Evans, who runs Selfcare online counselling. He says he’s hearing your “level-headedness and correct decision-making” in terms of ending the relationship. On that basis, he thinks you should trust your gut here too and “listen to both opposing parts of yourself”.

You’re still grieving the end of your relationship, he points out, and “anger is part and parcel of most grief journeys”.

“There’s a possibility the remaining hurt and consequent anger lies beneath the decision not to return the ring — that it may be an act of passive aggression,” he says.

“I’d suggest taking time to process the remaining hurt and maybe booking a few therapy sessions to help with that. Then she will arrive at a clearer place in mind and body.”

At the same time, he understands why you might consider the ring a form of “compensation”. “It’s utterly reasonable to conclude that she is simply ‘balancing the books’ as they dissolve the relationship and cover all of the costs incurred,” he says.

It’s also worth considering the emotional toll of keeping the ring, says Celina.

“Arguing over the ring will only cause more hurt and make it harder for her to move on, so I’d be inclined to give it back, but only after other financial issues (the venue deposit, the ownership of the home furnishings she paid for) are ironed out.”

I would be of the same mind, but for slightly different reasons. If you decide to keep the ring and trade it in for something else, you will be reminded of this period in your life almost every day for the foreseeable future.

Environmental cues have a huge impact on overall mindset, which is why we should surround ourselves only with objects that trigger happy memories and positive feelings.

Equally, I’d be wary of using the term ‘compensation’, which is synonymous with the word ‘victim’. You were a victim of cheating, yes, but you will recover and heal from this betrayal in time. And you’ll recover a lot faster if you can move beyond the victimhood mindset.