The marriage proposal often has a ritual quality, involving the presentation of the engagement ring, notabaly a diamond ring, and a formalized asking of a question such as “Will you marry me?”.
It is traditionally the man’s task to propose to the woman, but this is no longer universal. In Ireland the 29th of February is said to be the one day (coming round only once every four years) when a woman can propose to her partner.
Women traditionally refuse a marriage proposal by refusing to take the offered engagement ring. In some states of the United States, engagement rings are considered “conditional gifts” under the legal rules of property. This is an exception to the general rule that gifts cannot be revoked once properly given. See, for example, the case of Meyer v. Mitnick, 625 N.W.2d 136 (Michigan, 2001), whose ruling found the following reasoning persuasive: “the so-called ‘modern trend’ holds that because a wedding engagement ring is an inherently conditional gift, once the engagement has been broken, the engagement ring should be returned to the donor. Thus, the question of who broke the engagement and why, or who was ‘at fault,’ is irrelevant. This is the no-fault line of cases.”
One case in New South Wales, Australia ended in the man suing his former fiancé because she threw the engagement ring in the trash after telling her she could keep it despite the marriage proposal failing. The Supreme Court of New South Wales held that despite what the man said, the ring remained a conditional gift (partly because his saying that she could keep it was partly due to his desire to salvage the relationship) and she was ordered to pay him its $15,250 Austrailian dollar cost.
Tradition generally holds that if the betrothal fails because the man himself breaks off the engagement, the woman is not obliged to return the engagement ring. Legally, this condition can be subject to either a modified or a strict fault rule. Under the former, the fiancé can demand the return of the engagement ring unless he breaks the engagement. Under the latter, the fiancé is entitled to the return the engagement ring unless his actions caused the breakup of the relationship, the same as the traditional approach. However, a no-fault rule is being advanced in some jurisdictions, under which the fiancé is always entitled to the return of the engagement ring. The ring only becomes the property of the woman when marriage occurs. An unconditional gift approach is another possibility, wherein the ring is always treated as a gift, to be kept by the fiancé whether or not the relationship progresses to marriage. Recent court rulings have determined that the date in which the engagement ring was offered can determine the condition of the gift. e.g. Valentine's Day and Christmas are nationally recognized as gift giving holidays. A engagement ring offered in the form of a Christmas present will likely remain the personal property of the recipient in the event of a break up.
In the United Kingdom, the gift of an engagement ring is presumed to be an absolute gift to the fiancé. This presumption may be rebutted however by proving that the ring was given on condition (express or implied) that it must be returned if the marriage did not take place, for whatever reason. This was decided in the case Jacobs vs Davis in 1917.