South Boston, VA asked in Contracts and Family Law for Virginia

Q: If an engagement is broken due to the man's actions, does the woman keep the engagement ring?

The man would make himself not available due to drugs. He would go days without contact and the female was paying for cellular service for both parties. This was to be divided not her paying all of it.

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1 Lawyer Answer
Thomas H. Roberts Esq
Thomas H. Roberts Esq
  • Richmond, VA
  • Licensed in Virginia

A: Probably yes. The issue is controlled by the law of contract. Based upon your contention, the man breached the agreement based upon his actions choosing drugs over you.

In Virginia, in order to maintain an action of detinue, a plaintiff must prove: (1) a right of property in the property sought to be recovered; (2) the right to the property's immediate possession; (3) the property must be capable of identification; (4) the property must be of some value, ''and (5) the defendant must have had possession at some time prior to the commencement of the action. See Vicars v. Atlantic Discount Co., 205 Va. 934, 938, 140 S.E.2d 667 (1965); Lee v. Park, 73 Va. Cir. 219, 235 (2007).

In the case of Peter v Langley, a judge in Loudoun County explained that where neither party was at fault the ring should be returned. Virginia Code Ann. § 8.01-220, otherwise referred to as the Heart Balm Act, prohibits actions for breach of promise to marry. This statute has been interpreted by some Virginia circuit courts to prohibit the return of property given on the condition of marriage. See Georgalas v. Kilgore, 73 Va. Cir. 34 (2006) ("There is little question this action simply seeks damages incurred as a result of a 'breach of promise to marry.' As such, there is no cause of action as it is barred pursuant to Virginia Code § 8.01-220."); Holmburg v. Ferrell, 69 Va. Cir. 348 (2005) (denied plaintiff's request for return of a vehicle given to defendant on the condition of marriage pursuant to Virginia Code Ann. § 8.01-220).

Despite the foregoing, this Court finds that the intention behind that Heart Balm Act was not to prohibit the return of engagement gifts. Rather, this Court follows the majority view that Heart Balm Acts "go no further than to bar actions for damages suffered from loss of marriage, humiliation, and other direct consequences of the breach and do not affect the rights and duties of the parties relative to gifts passing between them, which are determinable by common-law principles." 44 A.LR.5th 1, 11 (1996).

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