When Sweet Ain’t Sweet No More – Recovering Engagement Rings in Virginia


In December 2016, the Supreme Court of Virginia reversed course and opened up a way for jilted fiancés to recover the engagement ring if the relationship ends before the wedding.

In the case of Julia V. McGrath v. Ethan L. Dockendorf, the Court ruled that Mr. Dockendorf’s action to recover a $26,000 engagement ring that he gave to his fiancé was not blocked by VA Code  § 8.01-220, also known as Virginia’s Heart Balm Statute.

The Virginia General Assembly enacted the “Heart Balm” Statute in 1968.  It reads as follows:

  • 8.01-220. Action for alienation of affection, breach of promise, criminal conversation and seduction abolished.
  1. Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, no civil action shall lie or be maintained in this Commonwealth for alienation of affection, breach of promise to marry, or criminal conversation upon which a cause of action arose or occurred on or after June 28, 1968.

The Court ruled that this statute did not bar actions in detinue to recover conditional gifts.  The statute only specifically barred suits for, alienation of affection, breach of promise to marry, or criminal conversation.  Basically, the court declared that suing to recover an engagement ring, or its value, was not the same thing as a civil suit for breach of a promise to marry.

The court felt that, had the General Assembly wished to bar actions in detinue for the recovery of engagement rings, it specifically would have.

In Dockendorf’s case, the Court found that the diamond ring was a conditional gift and ordered it be returned.  On appeal, the Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed the ruling.

This ruling was a reversal of Virginia’s previously held stance on the matter.  The majority of other states agree with Virginia’s new view.  If the trial court finds that the facts of the case establish the ring as a conditional gift, and the condition of marriage does not occur, the ring must be returned.

If you have questions about a potential civil suit, please contact the attorneys of Winslow & McCurry, PLLC at (804)423-1382 or email us at info@wmmlegal.com.