All states have had to address the return of engagement rings upon termination of an engagement over the years, but many differ on how to handle the issue. In the past, many states allowed the "victim" of the end of the engagement (i.e., the person who did not call off the engagement) to sue the other person under "heart balm" statutes that allowed damages for hurt feelings. This led to some large damage awards and abuse of the system, ultimately leading to the end of heart balm statutes. But many states, including Virginia, retained a cause of action for the return of an engagement ring, or gift given on the premise of marriage taking place. These states view the ring, or gift, as a conditional gift given upon the assumption that marriage will take place, rather than a true gift that is given without any expectation of something in return. When the giver of the ring is no longer going to receive what he (or she) expected, i.e. marriage, then most states agree that the ring should be returned to the giver of the ring. Allowing the recipient to keep the ring would result in unjust enrichment. Some states vary on these holdings depending on who called off the engagement. In a recent Virginia case, the giver of the ring, the male, called off the engagement and asked for the ring back. The recipient, the female, refused, stating that Virginia law abolished heart balm statutes and therefore he could not receive the ring back. The court disagreed with her and ordered her to return the ring to the male because they viewed it as a conditional gift, the return of which is justified and would not cause her excessive damage.
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