Monday, June 11, 2007

Rules of Engagement revisited

Slate has a story on the shoddy history of the engagement ring, citing Margaret Brinig's argument that the ring compensated for the desuetude of the cause of action for breach of promise to marry. I think my account complicates Brinig's argument somewhat, but the Slate piece's real flaw is that it gets the law wrong. In most states that have decided the issue in the last 50 years, with the notable exception of Montana, an engagement ring is a conditional gift with the condition being marriage, not willingness to marry. So it doesn't matter who calls off the engagement; if it's off, the man can sue for return of the ring. Slate gives as the legal rule what is actually (a variant of) the etiquette rule: the caller-off doesn't get the ring.

(Side notes: (1) I call the Montana case notable because it relies on the analysis of your humble correspondent, and the dissent criticizes the same, although to my great dismay I'm cited as Rebecca Rushnet, the Scooby-Doo version of my name. (2) Yes, I wear one, though I should have made my husband do so as well. (3) No, I didn't write the note because of any personal experience, though that would make a better story!)

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