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Kansas Supreme Court Selected Opinion Summaries
Jerod Heiman v. Heather Parrish, Docket 77,150
July 24, 1997

Summaries and press releases are prepared by Ron Keefover, Office of Judicial Administration, Kansas Judicial Center, 301 West 10th, Topeka, KS 66612-1507 (785-296-2256), e-mail: keefoverr@kscourts.org.


RE: Appeal No. 77,150: Heiman v. Parrish

Ordinarily, a wedding engagement ring is not for keeps if the marriage is called off, the Supreme Court ruled in a split decision released today.

The court voted 5-2 that the ring should be returned under ordinary circumstances, but three members of the majority said there may be "extremely gross and rare situations" where fault might be appropriately considered in deciding who should get the ring.

The decision was reached in a lawsuit brought by Jerod Heiman, Wichita, who is seeking the return of an engagement ring he purchased for $9,000 in August 1994 for Heather L. Parrish, also of Wichita. The engagement was terminated by Heiman in October 1995. The Sedgwick County District Court ruled in his favor and held that he is entitled to return of the ring plus costs.

The trial court found as a matter of law that since the engagement ring was given in contemplation of marriage, the marriage itself is a condition precedent to the ultimate ownership of the ring. "Since the parties did not perform the condition of marriage, the purchaser is entitled to return of the ring," Wichita's Judge Timothy G. Lahey ruled. He also held that the issue of who ended the engagement is not determinative of the ownership of the ring.

Chief Justice Kay McFarland, writing for the majority of the Supreme Court, said unless some "contrary intent has been expressed, an engagement ring is, by its very nature, a conditional gift given in contemplation of marriage." But she wrote that there may be "extremely gross and rare situations" in which return of the ring may be subject to a determination of who was at fault in breaking the engagement.

The chief justice was joined in the majority opinion by Justices Robert E. Davis and Edward Larson. Justices Donald L. Allegrucci and Fred N. Six concurred in the result, but would not recognize an exception for "extremely gross and rare situations."

In rejecting the contention that who was at fault in terminating the engagement should be considered, Chief Justice McFarland asked what fault is or what constitutes the unjustifiable calling off of an engagement.

"By way of illustration, should courts be asked to determine which of the following grounds for breaking an engagement is fault or justified?

  • The parties have nothing in common;
  • One party cannot stand prospective in-laws;
  • a minor child of one of the parties is hostile to and will not accept the other party;
  • an adult child of one of the parties will not accept the other party;
  • the parties' pets do not get along;
  • a party was too hasty in proposing or accepting the proposal;
  • the engagement was a rebound situation which is now regretted;
  • one party has untidy habits that irritate the other;
  • or the parties have religious differences.

"The list could be endless," Chief Justice McFarland said in her opinion.

A dissent written by Judge Christel E. Marquardt, of the Court of Appeals, was joined by Justice Tyler C. Lockett. Judge Marquardt sat with the Supreme Court to hear the appeal in the place of Justice Bob Abbott, who recused because a relative is an attorney in one of the law firms involved in the appeal.

The dissenters would have reversed the trial court and rejected the majority's conclusion that the gift was conditional. "Regardless, Heather is entitled to keep the engagement ring whether this case is analyzed on the principles of gift law, contract law, or equity," Judge Marquardt wrote in her dissent.

"Most of the other jurisdictions cited by the majority that have dealt with rings and broken engagements hold that if the engagement is unjustifiably broken by the donor, the donor is not entitled to the return of the ring or other gifts," she wrote in the dissent.