Must an engagement ring be returned when one party breaks off the engagement?

Catherine Croft

In August 2012, a boyfriend in Fairfax, Virginia, proposed to his girlfriend with a 2 carat diamond ring worth $26,000.  She accepted and the happy couple began planning their wedding.  Sadly, over the next year, their relationship soured and the boyfriend, then fiancé, called off the engagement.  He asked for the return of the 2 carat diamond ring.  She refused. Can she keep the ring?

A December 2016 case from the Virginia Supreme Court suggests she cannot.  The trial court that heard the evidence found that the boyfriend/fiancé was entitled to either the ring or a judgement in the amount of $26,000 if the ring was not returned to him within 30 days of the ruling.  The trial court reasoned that the ring was given to the girlfriend as a conditional gift.  In other words, he gave her the ring on the condition that she became his wife.  When that condition was not met, he was entitled to get the ring back.

The girlfriend’s attorney argued that the boyfriend’s lawsuit was barred under Virginia’s “Heart Balm” statute that was passed in 1968 by the Virginia General Assembly.  That statute specifically barred lawsuits for (1) alienation of affection; (2) breach of promise to marry; and (3) criminal conversations (engaging in sexual relations with someone else’s spouse).  The girlfriend’s argument was that the boyfriend’s lawsuit was based on a breach of promise to marry and therefore not allowed by the Heart Balm statute.

The Virginia Supreme Court disagreed with the girlfriend.  The Court found that the boyfriend’s lawsuit was based NOT upon the breach of promise to marry but upon an “action in detinue” in which he was seeking return of specific property.  The Court found that his lawsuit was valid and affirmed the trial court’s ruling requiring the girlfriend to return the ring or pay $26,000.00.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, please feel free to contact us. Our law firm specializes in divorce, custody and criminal cases. To learn more contact us at (703) 335-9390 – Happy Valentine’s Day!



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