- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2001

Attention ladies hot for the big rock, but cold on the man who gave it: If you don't seal the deal with a wedding, say bye-bye to the diamond.
A Minnesota appeals court has ruled that an engagement ring is "a conditional gift" and must be returned to the person who gave it, regardless of who put an end to the relationship.
The ruling brings the law to bear upon a long-dicey social quandary, and follows rules of relationship etiquette espoused by arbiters like Miss Manners and Dear Abby, who have said in the past that the ring must be returned to the partner who purchased it.
Some state courts, however, have ruled otherwise, leaving the issue murky with spurned brides and money-minded grooms facing off in courtrooms around the nation.
The ruling handed down this week by a three-judge panel in Minneapolis came in the case of Randy Miland, who in 1990 gave fiancee Gina Benassi an engagement ring valued at $24,000. Miss Benassi worked as a chiropractor at Mr. Miland's business, the Back and Neck Pain Clinic Inc. in Woodbury, Minn.
She claimed her fiance broke their engagement in 1994. Three years later, when she took a vacation to Jamaica with another man, she claimed Mr. Miland fired her in retribution. She filed a lawsuit, and a district court dismissed her claims. But an appeals court said the lower court erred in dismissing her sexual harassment claim and sent that issue to trial.
Mr. Miland, in a counterclaim to Miss Benassi's lawsuit, had sought the return of her engagement ring.
In his opinion, handed down Tuesday, appeals court Judge G. Barry Anderson wrote: "An engagement ring is a conditional gift, given in contemplation of marriage; marriage is an implied condition of the transfer of title to the ring, and the gift does not become absolute until the marriage occurs."
At least one former fiancee who broke her engagement but kept the ring disagrees with the judge's decision.
The woman, a 41-year-old San Diego trial lawyer, says his opinion "dehumanizes marriage and turns it into nothing more than a legal contract."
"I don't see it as conditional anything," said the lawyer, a Washington and Lee law school graduate who kept her marquis-cut diamond with her fiance's approval and continues to wear it "fondly" on her right hand.
"I see it as something that was given in love and as a token of someone's affection, not as consideration in a marriage contract," she said, adding that she believes there ought to be some statute of limitations on when a former fiance could ask for his ring back.
Writing in a 1993 column, advice maven Dear Abby weighed in deftly on the issue. "If the engagement is broken by either party, the lady should return the engagement ring — or she's no lady," Abby said.
Miss Manners, when queried by a reader in 1998, framed her response in a series of questions, published in her syndicated column.
"Why are the courts involved in this question at all, when there has always been an etiquette rule on the books requiring that the ring must be returned when the engagement is — for whatever reason — defunct?" she asked. "Why would a lady want to keep a token symbolizing love that has proved false?"
Going further on the defensive, particularly in the case of a woman who has been jilted, Miss Manners added: "Why would a lady forgo one of the grand gestures of all times flinging the ring back into the face of the despised lover?"

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