I Broke Off my Engagement, Should I Give the Ring Back?
Ending an engagement is difficult on many levels. Not only must you grieve for your relationship, but you must separate your finances from those of your future spouse. If you have been living together for some time, you must divide shared personal property. From telling friends and family to canceling wedding vendors, breaking off an engagement can be both stressful and financially straining. One of the most common issues to arise after an engagement ends is what to do about the engagement ring. If you received a ring and your ex wants it back, what should you do? Local courts throughout Virginia are divided on the matter making it important for you to contact a Leesburg family law attorney right away. Your legal duty may depend on where you live, but the situation may also come down to avoiding a lengthy court battle.
Virginia’s Heart Balm Act
Many decades ago, when women were often valued based on their apparent virtue and ability to marry well, it was possible for individuals to sue one another due to broken promises of marriage. When a man and women became engaged but one of them ended it, the scorned party could sue for breach of promise, alienation of affections or even seduction. The financial recovery was considered a “heart balm,” a term that later became the name of the law abolishing these legal claims. In 1968, Virginia’s Heart Balm Act prohibited civil actions based on the end of an engagement.
For many years, it was assumed and upheld in local courts throughout Virginia that the Heart Balm Act prohibited an individual from bringing a claim in court for the return of an engagement ring. However, in 2014, the Loudoun County Circuit Court decided otherwise.
Peter v. Langley
In Peter v. Langley, Kelly Rhea Langley received an engagement ring worth $46,646.00 in November 2012 from Alexander John Peter. She accepted, but in January 2014 broke off the engagement and moved out of her and Peter’s shared home. Peter asked that the engagement ring be returned but Langley refused, which led to Peter filing suit asking for the return of the ring or a judgement for its value.
The Loudoun County Circuit Court acknowledged the Heart Balm Act and that many courts find that this law prohibits the return of property given on the condition of marriage. However, the court disagreed and determined that the Heart Balm Act does not prohibit the return of engagement rings.
Under the ruling in Peter v. Langley, the court followed a common view throughout the U.S. that an engagement ring is a conditional gift. The ring does not become property of the recipient until the marriage takes place. If the marriage does not take place, for whatever reason, the ring giver can ask for it back.
What Should You Do?
Very often, whether or not to return the ring is a decision based on your relationship with your ex, not the law. If the engagement ring was a family heirloom or is worth a considerable amount of money, the polite thing to do is to give it back. However, there are many circumstances in which you may feel keeping the ring is appropriate, such as if the ring was from your side of the family, you contributed to paying for it, or your ex was at fault for the end of the relationship.
If you have been asked to return an engagement ring and you are not sure what to do, contact the experienced Leesburg family law attorneys at Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC to schedule a consultation. We can explain your rights and duties in regard to the ring and represent you in court, if necessary.