Fault for the Break-Up
When divining who gets to keep the engagement ring, courts also do not agree on whether it should matter who did the breaking up or why.
Courts That Do Consider the Reasons for the Breakup
To some judges, it isn't fair that the donor should always get the ring back, especially if the donee stood ready to go ahead with the marriage and the donor broke it off. These same judges think it would be unfair for the donee to keep the ring if the engagement was broken because of the donee's unfaithfulness or other wrongdoing. In such cases, they order that the ring should be returned to its purchaser. This "fault-based" rule is the majority approach.
For example, consider the case of George J. Pavlicic, a 75-year-old man, who had a romance with Sara Jane Mills, aged 26. They became engaged in 1949. He bought her a house, two cars, an engagement ring, and a diamond ring in anticipation of their marriage. George then lent her a significant amount of money, including $5,000 to buy a saloon. Sara Jane then disappeared. The next time she was heard from, she had indeed used the $5,000 to buy a saloon, but it was in another city, and she had married another man.
George went to court. He wanted everything that he'd given Sara Jane back -- and he won. Pavlicic v. Vogtsberger, 136 A.2d 127, 130 (Penn. 1957).