By Jessica L. Leischner

Engagements, unfortunately, don’t always lead to wedded bliss. Sometimes a fiancé discovers he or she is in love with the engagement ring — but not with the person who proposed marriage — and wants to hang on to the valuable bauble after the breakup.

Recent Engagement Ring Cases

A recent Lord of the Rings battle involves a New York couple battling over a ring valued at $48,300, along with $12K worth of furniture–and to add insult to injury, a dog. The former groom-to-be is suing his ex-fiance, demanding it all, plus $65,000 in damages.

A similar standoff in Virginia was finally resolved this past December by the Virginia Court of Appeals, which ruled that the ring must be returned to the ex-groom. “Virginia defines an engagement ring as a ‘conditional gift’ — in other words, the ring is given on the condition that a legal wedding will take place,” says Jessica Leischner, a partner at the Alexandria law firm of Wade Grimes Friedman Meinken & Leischner PLLC.

Who Keeps the Engagement Ring in Virginia?

So, a ring that was given on the condition of a legal wedding remains the property of the person who gave it, not the fiancé who received it — at least in Virginia.

Of course, the law has its twists and turns. In another case Leischner handled, the couple actually held a marriage ceremony and then split soon thereafter. But the ruling was still the same–the ring was conditional and had to be returned to the ex-groom. Why? Because while the couple had said their “I do’s,” the marriage wasn’t legal because they never got around to actually getting an official marriage license.

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