BROKEN PROMISES

Dreams shattered, plans thwarted, and lives derailed. This is what can occur when engagements are broken or, even worse, when one is stood up at the altar! But what happens to all of those lovely wedding gifts from family and friends? Who gets to keep the engagement ring?

Under New York State Law, gifts are typically considered irrevocable, so there is no way to get them back if circumstances change or the gift giver has a change of heart. Does this mean that if the parents of the bride bought a house or an expensive car as a wedding gift, that they have no chance of recovery when things go sour for the couple? Is the husband-to-be out of luck if his fiancée takes off with the two-carrot engagement ring?

Luckily or unluckily, depending upon which side you are on, there is an exception to New York Gifts Law when it comes to wedding gifts. Under N.Y. Civil Rights Law Section 80-b, an action may be initiated to recover appropriate gifts (chattels, money, real property, or securities or their value) if the sole reason or motive for their transfer was an impending marriage that has not occurred. So, as long as the engagement ring, the house, or that fancy car was given solely in contemplation of a marriage that did not occur, the gifts must be returned. Even that set of matching beer mugs or Cuisinart must be returned to the gift-givers if they were given in sole contemplation of the marriage. But if what the former couple does not voluntarily return said gift? Then the gift-giver has the option of initiating an action under N.Y. Civil Rights Law Section 80-b in the New York State Supreme Court to recover the goods.

Once all of the booty has been recovered, can the jilted spouse sue the other for breaking their heart, or for ruining a perfect wedding extravaganza? Historically, people were able to use the court system in New York to go after their former husband or wife-to-be for breaking their heart. Presently however, New York has abolished such actions for breach of contract to marry or other "heart balm" actions. In fact, it is a felony for a party or their attorney to even commence or threaten to commence any litigation for these types of actions.

So, although the law cannot help mend a broken heart, it can assist in re-uniting people with their well-intentional gifts.