Virginia Lawyer Sues for Return of $100K Engagement Ring After Breakup

The law for D.C. considers an engagement ring to be a conditional gift, meaning the woman may have to give it back, a family law attorney said

A Virginia lawyer sued his former fiancée after he says she refused to give back the 4.06-carat engagement ring he gave her, valued at nearly $100,000.

Richmond lawyer Ryan Strasser alleged that his former fiancée, Sarah Jones Dickens, pressured him into spending more than double the $40,000 maximum he initially suggested and then refused to give back the ring after they broke up while living in Washington, D.C.

Strasser and his lawyers argued the ring was not merely a gift; it was a conditional gift.

"When Mr. Strasser offered the Engagement Ring to Defendant on February 9, 2017, Mr. Strasser did so as part of a proposal that Defendant marry him. Mr. Strasser therefore conditioned the gift of the Engagement Ring on a subsequent condition — a marriage — taking place," the suit says.

Dickens, Strasser and Strasser's lawyers did not respond to inquiries about the Sept. 24 suit, on which The Litigation Daily was first to report.

Court documents say Dickens and Strasser met in 2004 as classmates at Duke University. They were friends and started dating in 2015. They lived in a five-bedroom house in Upper Northwest D.C., rented for $4,800. Strasser, a civil litigator, said he paid the rent as Dickens pursued a Ph.D. in art history.

After they started talking about marriage, Strasser suggested a $40,000 budget for a ring. According to the suit, Dickens said she wanted the ring to meet several criteria. She wanted the primary diamond to be 3.5 to 5 carats, have an inclusion rating of no worse than VS2, have a color rating of no worse than G, have no florescence and be an Old European cut.

She emailed him information on a Betteridge ring she found for sale at a shop in Greenwich, Connecticut. The ring's main diamond was what she wanted, on a platinum band with smaller baguette diamonds. The shop wanted $119,000 for the ring.

Strasser repeatedly told Dickens the ring cost too much, he said, but he "eventually acceded and undertook to negotiate." He got the price down to $99,800, and took out a personal loan of $30,000 to help cover the cost. The loan called for monthly payments of $912 until January 2020.

He bought the ring and proposed in February 2017. Dickens accepted, and they started planning a wedding. But they pushed back the wedding and then broke off their engagement in January 2018.

Strasser demanded the ring back, but Dickens refused. She said she would keep it until she finished her dissertation and moved out of the house. He agreed and tried to negotiate with her through her parents. Dickens initially agreed to give back the ring, but then changed her mind, saying the ring "belonged to her" and that she would "never give it back," the suit says.

Strasser moved to Richmond, and after multiple attempts to get the ring, he filed suit.

The law for D.C. does consider an engagement ring to be a conditional gift, meaning Dickens may have to give it back, family law attorney Joe DiPietro said. He does not represent either party in the suit.

"An engagement ring is a gift, but there are different kinds of gift," he said.

Maryland law also considers an engagement ring a conditional gift, DiPietro said.

In Virginia, cases can be brought to determine if a ring was a conditional gift. Courts may consider who was at fault for breaking the engagement. 

Former Washington Redskins' wide receiver Laveranues Coles could help set precedent in the state. He sued in Fairfax County Circuit Court after he said his former fiancee refused to give back a 5.6-carat ring appraised at $240,000. An appeal is pending, DiPietro said.

The rules are different for wedding bands, which are considered shared marital property, subject to division.

UPDATE (Oct. 3, 2018, 1:30 p.m. ET): This story has been updated to reflect new information from Joe DiPietro on Virginia law regarding conditional gifts.

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