Laveranues Coles, shown playing for the Redskins in 2004, wants his $240,000 engagement ring back. Virginia courts have ruled for both sides in previous cases on this issue, and Coles's case could set Virginia case law precedent. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post) Laveranues Coles, shown playing for the Redskins in 2004, wants his $240,000 engagement ring back. Virginia courts have ruled for both sides in previous cases on this issue, and Coles’s case could set Virginia case law precedent. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

It’s an age-old legal question: When an engaged couple breaks up, who gets the engagement ring? In courts across the land, and particularly in Virginia, the issue is unresolved and both the fiance and the fiancee have won.

Now comes former Redskin wide receiver Laveranues Coles, and the ring in dispute is reportedly a 5.6-carat diamond appraised at $240,000. Coles proposed in February, allegedly found out in March that his betrothed was interested in another, and the whole thing got called off in June. Coles has requested the return of said 5.6-carat ring. His ex, Kenda M. Fairchild, has demurred, court records show.

So Coles sued in Fairfax County Circuit Court. And on Friday morning, he won round one of his quest, overcoming a pre-trial request to dismiss the case by Fairchild’s lawyers, who cited Virginia’s “heart balm” statute, which says that “no civil action shall lie or be maintained in this Commonwealth for alienation of affection, breach of promise to marry, or criminal conversation.”

But Virginia courts have not always applied that statute to contested engagement rings, with some ruling that the ring is a conditional gift, and the breach of promise to marry violates the condition of the agreement. And the Virginia Supreme Court has never weighed in on the issue, meaning the former receiver for Florida State, the Jets and Redskins could set a statewide precedent, either way, if his case makes it all the way to the high court.

Neither Coles nor Fairchild were in court Friday to comment. Fairchild lives in Fairfax County, which is why the suit was filed there.

Fairchild’s lawyer, Lloyd J. Jordan, said the couple had dated for seven years, and that their proposed union was dissolved after Coles posted photos of himself on vacation with another woman on Facebook earlier this year. Jordan told Fairfax Circuit Judge Michael F. Devine that court rulings on the issue of who gets the ring “depends on which court you are in. Even with the same set of facts in the same courthouse, you get different results on the same issue.”

Devine asked, “Why do you supposed the Supreme Court hasn’t fixed this problem? Or the legislature?” Both Jordan and Coles’s lawyer, Connell Loftus, had no answer.

Devine raised the issue, based on Coles’s claim that the engagement started to dissolve the month after the ring was given, that Fairchild may have committed fraud. “She took the ring in February,” the judge said, “and by March she’s interested in someone else. Can I infer from that that she really never had any intent to marry?”

Jordan said there was no fraudulent intent by Fairchild.

Loftus argued that “a breach of promise to marry is a specific common law action. There are economic damages.” He said the “heart balm” statute was designed to allow people to leave the altar without facing liability for economic damages, but “not designed for a betrothed who keeps wedding rings for their enrichment.”

Devine said, “the issue is all over the place” and that if the Virginia legislature had intended to prevent suits based on property given in such situations, they would have. “They did not bar anything arising out of a marriage agreement that fails to consummate,” the judge said.

The case now moves to briefs and trial.