Wedding cancelled; Jilted fiancé can get engagement ring back

There was a time when many states allowed a person to sue another person for breach of a promise to marry. This resulted in a lot of colorful lawsuits that provided for sensational trials and plenty of entertaining gossip in otherwise dull towns. The ability to bring such suits resulted in runaway verdicts and abuse, which is why so many states have adopted “heart balm” laws that forbid jilted suitors from bringing such cases.

But that doesn’t mean a heartbroken suitor has no recourse at all. If a recent Virginia case is any indication, a man who’s left at the altar can still sue to recover the engagement ring.

The case involved Ethan, an accountant who proposed to Julia in 2012. But the relationship went bad over the course of the next year and the engagement was called off.

Ethan then went to court to recover the $26,000 engagement ring he’d purchased for Julia. A county judge ruled that he had a legitimate claim and ordered Julia either to return the ring or face a $26,000 judgment.

Julia appealed, arguing that forcing her to return the ring violated Virginia’s heart balm law. According to Julia, a lawsuit to recover an engagement ring is no different than a lawsuit over a broken promise to marry. After all, without a broken marriage promise, there’s no action to recover the ring.

But the Virginia Supreme Court disagreed, finding that the heart balm law was irrelevant. Ethan didn’t sue over a broken promise to marry. Instead he was seeking to recover the ring or its cash value under the theory that it was a conditional gift and the conditions weren’t met.

This ends the uncertainty in Virginia over whether someone can sue to recover an engagement rink in the wake of a broken engagement. But the law may differ elsewhere. Talk to a family lawyer where you live to find out the law in your state.