WHO gets to keep the diamond ring when an engagement is called off?
Traditionally, the woman is expected to hand it back, but times have changed - as a Sydney man has discovered.
Edwin Shien Bing Toh, who called it quits with his former fiancee Winnie Chu Ling Su just 10 days before his wedding, expected her to return the $15,500 sparkler he'd given her, along with a diamond necklace, a Longines watch and a Louis Vuitton handbag, plus two wedding bands worth $1300, an iPhone, a Samsonite case and $1000 cash.
As far as he saw it, the pair had agreed that each party would return all gifts bestowed in the course of the relationship. But a court did not see things that way.
Mr Toh sued his ex-fiancee in the Downing Centre Local Court after Ms Su refused to hand back the items.
The court heard that when the pair had met to discuss the issue, Mr Toh suggested that "everything that belongs to each party will be returned to each party".
Ms Su agreed and demanded that Mr Toh "take off the shoes he was wearing" because she had bought them.
He took off the shoes and handed them over, and she went to his parents' house to reclaim a wallet she had bought, and various other gifts.
But magistrate Rodney Brender found that, rather than establishing an oral contract between the pair, Ms Su's reaction was likely an emotional response to the situation.
And, he said, Mr Toh's decision to give them back may have been because he "felt a little guilty" for breaking off their three-month engagement so soon before the wedding.
His Honour brushed aside previous English and Australian cases where jilted brides were forced to hand back engagement rings, concluding that because it is no longer possible to sue for breach of a promise to marry, "the gift of an engagement ring should be seen as unconditional".
"Many gifts are given in happy times and with optimism. Sometimes that optimism is borne out, sometimes it isn't. Why would the law treat a gift of a ring between same sex couples as different? Or between couples who give a ring in anticipation of a de facto relationship starting and prospering?" he said.
It was still possible to make a gift conditional by "words or conduct", he said, but found that this had not happened in the present case.
The court refused to order Ms Su to return the engagement ring and gifts, but ordered her to give back the wedding bands, which had been "bought in contemplation of marriage", along with $1000 in cash from a joint account.
The decision follows a similar case in Canberra last year, when a court likewise dismissed an application for the return of an engagement ring and gifts after a relationship breakdown.
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