When an engagement ends, the question of who keeps the engagement ring is not as straight forward as one might assume. There is a long line of case law dating back centuries in which courts have struggled with this question.
The traditional common law approach held that the party who ended the engagement loses claim to the ring. If the engagement ring is seen as conditional gift, the ring would go back to the donor.
Section 33 of Ontario’s Marriage Act changed the common law approach slightly by stating the donee will keep the engagement ring if it’s an absolute gift, whereas the donor will get the ring back if it was a conditional gift.
However, the Marriage Act also states a promise to marry cannot be enforced nor can a party bring a court action for a breach of a promise to marry. Removing the issue of fault in the recovery of gifts made in contemplation of marriage, keeps the legislation in line with the Divorce Act, under which divorce is now “no-fault.”
This approach was taken in Mastromatteo v Dayball,  O.J. No. 1600, where the court moved away from the more traditional common law approach, noting:
The gift of an engagement ring to my mind is just that – a gift. The notion that the ring must be returned if the marriage does not occur appears to me to be inconsistent both with the nature of a gift and with the modern law relating to marriage.
Whereas, in Newell v Allen, 2012 ONSC 6681, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice required the Applicant to give the engagement ring back to the Respondent as the engagement ring was determined to be a conditional gift. The caveat here being that the donor requested the ring back shortly after the engagement ended. If there had been a delay in requesting the ring back, it would indicate to the court that the ring was meant to be an absolute gift.