Will a woman have to return the gift of an engagement ring in Virginia if she breaks off the engagement?
Yes. In Hicks v. Jordan, CL09-4244, the Circuit Court ruled that an engagement ring was a conditional gift, which upon the dissolution of an engagement had to be returned to the giver. Although this case does not directly concern bankruptcy or divorce, it does concern gifts made in contemplation of marriage.
In this detinue action under Section 8.01-114 of the Code of Virginia, the Court examined the nature of gifts and held that the facts of the case established that the gift was made in contemplation of marriage, making it conditional upon the marriage union. According to Lumsden v. Arbaugh, 207 Mo. App. 561, 564, 227 S.W. 868, 869 (1921), an engagement ring must be returned to the donor upon breach of the engagement due to its nature as a conditional gift.
In Pretlow v. Pretlow, 177 Va. 524, 544, 14 S.E.2d 381 (1941) the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled similarly, stating, “If an intended husband makes a present, after the treaty of marriage has been negotiated, to his intended wife, and the inducement for the gift is the fact of her promise to marry him, if she breaks off the marriage, he may recover from her the value of such present.” Furthermore, in Hicks the Court found that Virginia’s Statute of Frauds, Virginia Code §11-2, did not present a bar to the plaintiff’s case in this detinue action for the wrongful detention of the engagement ring. Accordingly, the Court held that the action was merited, ordered that the defendant return the ring to the donor, and affirmed that the defendant was estopped from pleading the statute of frauds.
You should consult with your Virginia family law lawyer to determine if you are legally entitled to the return of, or obligated to return, an engagement ring.