While it is a state by state decision if an engagement ring is considered conditional, California has a common law view, which uses the basis of whether or not the ring was a gift at the time or conditional.
Certain states, like California, have codified it, says retired Superior Court Judge Eugene Hyman of Santa Clara, California. In doing so, California says if the recipient of the ring decides not to marry, the ring is to be returned or if the marriage is mutually abandoned, then in theory, the ownership of the ring hasn't transferred.
As this issue is now gaining more attention because of same sex marriages, Hyman still suggests to people that if you give a ring to someone, male or female, be sure to say that if it's doesn't work out, that you want the ring back, so it becomes a conditional gift. Under California statutes, if someone gives an engagement ring to another person and that person breaks off the marriage, then the other person gets the ring back. If the giver of the ring breaks it off, they get to keep it, adds Hyman.
Hyman notes that it's not just the ring that's at issue but the other things people get in anticipation of marriage, such as a house and the transfer of deeds.
Honorable Judge Eugene Hyman has received numerous awards and recognition for his work with families and children and has appeared on numerous television news shows. For more information, visit www.judgehyman.com. He is also a featured commentator on The Family Law Channel and The Legal Broadcast Network.