Australian Court Rules Woman Must Pay for Tossed Engagment Ring

It was to be their big, fat Greek wedding.

It turned out to be his big fat compensation after the ring ended up in a dustbin.

And a big fat, age-old question has been answered by a court: Who gets the ring when an engagement is called off? The answer: Him.

In early August 2005, Vicki Pappas and Andrew Vacopoulos were blissfully in love. The couple, in their late 20s, exchanged rings at their Sydney engagement party.

Just 10 days later they were parting. The intended bride removed her A$15,500 (£6,000) ring from her finger and placed it on a coffee table in front of members of her family, telling her distraught fiancé: “The wedding is off. Here, take the ring, I don’t want it.”

Her jilted fiancé responded: “I do not want the ring. It is a gift for you. You can keep it.”

After about half an hour he left.

Some six weeks later Pappas’s former fiancé called her at work, declaring his love for her and saying that he wanted her back. Unimpressed, she called her father and asked him to gather up and throw away all the gifts Vacopoulos had given her — including her engagement ring.

Her father obliged, prompting an anguished e-mail to Pappas from her ex-fiancé which said: “Your dad said that he tore up my photos and threw the ring in the garbage. Why is this happening? I don’t want it to happen.”

Enraged by the disposal of the engagement ring, Vacopoulos went to court, seeking orders that his intended bride repay the cost of the ring.

Couples everywhere might take notice of the magistrate’s finding: If an intended bride rejects her fiancé’s ring, she forfeits the right to claim the item as a gift. And much less the right to put it in the rubbish bin.

The magistrate’s decision was appealed in the New South Wales Supreme Court by Pappas.

But, again, she lost.

In the dry legalese of Justice Rex Smart, he said Friday: “Upon Vicki Pappas rejecting the gift, she became a bailee of that item, so long as she had it in her control. It is not open to a bailee to cause the item bailed to be thrown into the garbage bin. This is especially so where the item was valuable and no proper notice was given and but a short time had elapsed. Holding a small item such as an engagement ring is not a great chore.”

Justice Smart relied heavily on the legal precedents set down in a 1926 case, Cohen v Sellar, in which a court ruled that if a woman who had received a ring “in contemplation of marriage” later refused the conditions of the gift, then she must return it. That ruling also said that if a man refused to carry out his promise of marriage, he could not demand the return of an engagement ring.

The judge in the New South Wales case said that Pappas had tried to avoid the impact of the 1926 principles by claiming that her former fiancé had conferred the ring upon her as an absolute gift.

But, he said, she had never accepted the gift.

Legally bound

In Britain, the return of an engagement ring cannot be legally enforced unless there was an agreement to do so, as sometimes happens if it is an heirloom.

Most U.S. states presume the ring is a conditional gift and must be returned if the engagement is called off.

Irish law presumes that all engagement gifts are conditional on the marriage taking place. If it doesn’t, the gifts must be returned.

Canadian law says that whoever breaks off the engagement forfeits all claim to the ring.

South Africa classifies engagement rings as tokens of sincerity. If the couple part, the rings are returned.