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In a recent Ontario case, a court had to settle a dispute over ownership of an engagement ring and a dog, after an engaged couple broke up before the wedding.

What Happened?

The man and woman began a relationship and the woman moved into the man’s house in December 2009. They later purchased a home as joint tenants and moved into it together in September 2013.

The man proposed to the woman and gave her an engagement ring.  The woman accepted the proposal and ring. 

In 2015, a dog became part of their household.  

In early October 2015, the man was arrested and removed from the home after being charged with domestic violence towards the woman. The man eventually pled guilty to an assault on the woman. On December 7, 2016 he received a conditional discharge and two years probation.  

Though the couple had attempted to work on the relationship, it ended in early 2017. 

With the assistance of lawyers, the couple settled the bulk of their division of property issues by way of a final order dated July 24, 2018.  

However, they were unable to resolve a handful of issues concerning personal property, including ownership of the engagement ring and the ownership and residency of the dog.  

Though they had never married, they applied to the court to resolve their outstanding issues under the Courts of Justice Act. They represented themselves and were their only witnesses.  

Decision

Engagement Ring

The man’s position was that since the condition of the gift, marriage, was not fulfilled, he was entitled to the ring back. 

The woman’s position was that since it was the man’s fault that the marriage did not take place, she did not have to return the ring.  

The court refused to hear the couple’s arguments about who was at fault for the marriage being cancelled and instead relied on section 33 of the Marriage Act, which states: 

33Where one person makes a gift to another in contemplation of or conditional upon their marriage to each other and the marriage fails to take place or is abandoned, the question of whether or not the failure or abandonment was caused by or was the fault of the donor shall not be considered in determining the right of the donor to recover the gift.  

After reviewing the evidence and applicable legal principles, the court concluded: 

“In my view, as [the woman] has not sold the ring and has no emotional attachment to it, there would be no prejudice despite the delay (such as it is) if it were ordered to be returned.    

The engagement ring was a gift conditional on a marriage that did not take place, laches does not apply, and I therefore find that the [man] still owns it and is entitled to it. The [woman] shall deliver the ring to him within ten days.”

The Dog 

The court began by explaining:

“Notwithstanding the universal agreement in the case law that dogs, being sentient beings, are a special, important, and unique category of personal property, for the purposes of practicality and expediency the law continues to hold that disputes over dogs are to be approached in the same manner as with any other personal property, namely the relevant question is ownership.” 

The man claimed the dog was a gift to him and, although he had not seen him since he was charged with the breach in February of 2017, he still loved him and wanted him back.  

The woman denied the gift, saying the dog had always been hers, and indicated she had no intention of sharing him or letting him go. 

There was no suggestion that either party ever neglected the dog, and both conceded that the other took good care of and loved the dog.  

There was also no dispute that the woman purchased the dog and that she was the sole owner. However, the narrow question was whether the man had established on a balance of probabilities that her ownership had changed. 

The court then explained that while there were several ways that ownership could change, the court stated that the fact that the man spent time with the dog, spent money on the dog and treated the dog generally as the family pet would not affect a change in ownership.

Instead, the court explained that the required elements to establish a gift are: intention of the donor to give, delivery of the gift, and acceptance of the gift by the donee.  

After reviewing the evidence, the court found that the man had not made out an intention by the woman to gift the dog to him, had not established that the dog was delivered from the woman’s possession to his, and had not proven acceptance.  

As a result, the court concluded the woman owned the dog and dismissed the man’s claim to him. 

Get Advice 

Separation and divorce are challenging for everyone involved.  When dealing with custody or access disputes, matters involving spousal and child support, the division of assets, and other family issues, emotions can be your worst enemy. Having an experienced family lawyer on your side can help you stay focused and resolve disputes as quickly and amicably as possible.

At Campbell Bader LLP our family team has collectively spent more than twenty years advising clients about family disputes, including those involving high net worth individuals or complex matters.

We value and incorporate collaborative family law principles into our practice, but we’re smart enough to recognize when that approach won’t work for you and we adapt our strategy accordingly. To learn more about how we can help you, contact us online or at 905-828-2247.