When a wedding doesn't happen, you return the gifts. But you might wonder what to do if the wedding did happen -- and then didn't. An annulment is one of two legal ways to end a marriage, with the other being divorce. Unlike a divorce, however, an annulment is retroactive. In the eyes of the law, an annulment erases the marriage, making it as if the marriage didn't happen at all. Whether or not you should return the gifts really depends on the specific situation.
Annulments are granted for various reasons. Although religious leaders can grant them, for an annulment to be legal, the state has to grant it. Each state varies a bit in its requirements for an annulment, but the general grounds are the same: a state can grant an annulment if the bride or groom was underage when they married, incompetent, already married to someone else, if fraud was involved, if the marriage was forced or if it the marriage was never consummated.
The key to determining if you need to return wedding gifts when a marriage is annulled is if the couple lived together after the wedding, according to Emily Post's Etiquette Daily website. Regardless of the reason for the annulment, if the couple lived together after the wedding for more than a couple of months, the wedding gifts do not have to be returned. If they briefly lived together, but quickly separated within a month of two after the wedding, however, the wedding gifts should be returned. In addition, if the couple never lived together after the wedding at all, the wedding gifts should be returned.
There are a few exceptions to the rule. The first exception is if the gift was used. Such gifts should not be returned, as the guest who gave it to you won't be able to return it to the store anyway. The same is true of cash. It's likely that you no longer have the cash gifts that you were given. Keep in mind that in most cases, you probably won't be able to return the gifts.
Wedding gifts are not given with the expectation that they will be returned if the marriage fails, according to the Etiquette School of Ohio website. Yes, if the situation warrants it, you should return whatever you can -- especially if it was a sentimental gift of family heirloom -- but it's not polite for a person to ask for his gift back either. If a person asks you to return his gift after your annulment, be gracious and do what you can to accommodate him. If it's not possible to do so, however, be honest about it and know that it's the guest -- not you -- that is breaking the rules of etiquette.