You can’t put a price on love, but you can put a price on a breakup: $100,000.
Ryan Strasser, an associate with Troutman Sanders law firm in Washington, D.C., filed a lawsuit this week in the U.S. District Court in D.C. against his former fiancée, Sarah Jones Dickens, asking for the return of a 4.06-carat, $100,000 engagement ring, which he called a “conditional gift,” according to court documents. The couple was due to be married earlier this year and their relationship is outlined in sometimes excruciating detail.
The couple met as college classmates at Duke University in 2004 and started dating in 2015, the court filing states. Strasser earned a law degree and a Master of Public Administration, while Dickens studied art history in Cambodia and later enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Duke. They moved in together in December 2015. The following year, the beaming couple was photographed at a Modern Luxury magazine social event.
The couple’s prospective wedding registry at TheKnot.com is listed as an exhibit in the suit, as are their engagement photos on Facebook
Their registry included a $2,798 “rosewood slub velvet leonelle sofa” from the upscale clothing and lifestyle store Anthropologie
and $12 “Highland Hooks” (since reduced to $3.95). The engagement photographs show the couple holding hands, strolling through a snowy winter wonderland in a wooded area of Beaver Creek, Col. in February 2017.
‘Every lawsuit tells a story. But this one is a soap opera, a country-western song and a cautionary tale. In rich, painful (and possibly unnecessary) detail, Strasser lays out his version of how he was wronged.’
The court filing includes many personal details from their relationship. “Every lawsuit is a fight. Every lawsuit tells a story. But this one is a soap opera, a country-western song—and a cautionary tale,” said Jenna Greene, the San Francisco-based editor of The Litigation Daily, who first reported the case. “In rich, painful (and possibly unnecessary) detail, Strasser lays out his version of how he was wronged.”
The lawsuit details the evolution and eventual disintegration of the relationship in chilling legalese. “Defendant accepted the ring and the marriage proposal upon which the offer of the ring was predicated,” the suit states. “Roughly 11 months later, the parties’ marriage plans collapsed with a highly contentious break up that ended their engagement.” (Strasser and Dickens did not respond to several requests for comment. Strasser’s lawyer did not respond to request for comment.)
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Strasser claims in the suit that Dickens insisted that she deserved a “large” engagement ring because she did not believe in wasting money on a wedding and, for that reason, the couple should hold a smaller wedding and, instead, spend “extra” on an engagement ring, “something she would enjoy daily for the rest of her married life.” Strasser and Dickens then had a “preliminary discussion” about the parameters of an engagement ring.
Initially, Strasser wanted to spend no more than $40,000 on the ring. “Defendant stated that whatever she would eventually want likely would cost more than that,” according to the court filing. Following “multiple trips to several jewelers,” Dickens allegedly told Strasser she preferred an engagement ring of around 3.5 to 5 carats “with an inclusion rating of no ‘worse’ than VS2 and a color rating of no ‘worse’ than G,” ratings that indicate the quality of the diamond,” the suit states.
Sarah Jones Dickens advised that her diamond could have no florescence and wanted an ‘Old European Cut’ diamond, which is cut using a manufacturing process in the early part of the 1900s, according to the court filing.
Dickens had a very detailed vision for her ideal ring, the suit claims. “She also advised that her diamond could have no florescence” and wanted an “Old European Cut diamond, a type of diamond cut using a manufacturing process in the early part of the 1900s that has since fallen out of fashion due to improved diamond-cutting technology,” according to the court filing.
Although Strasser told Dickens that $99,800 exceeded his budget for the ring, he acquiesced and agreed to buy the ring from Betteridge jewelry store in Greenwich, Conn. At Dickens’s request, Strasser had the ring re-certified in December 2016 to ensure it had not suffered any damage since its previous certification in 2012. (Strasser also took out a $30,000 personal loan through online lender Social Finance Inc. (SoFi) at an interest rate of 5.95% per annum to help pay for the ring.)
“The bigger the ring, the bigger the problem,” said Michael Stutman, managing partner at Stutman, Stutman & Lichtenstein in New York and past president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, New York. Family law varies from state to state, but in New York City and Washington, D.C. the gift of an engagement ring only becomes complete at the wedding ceremony, Stutman said. (Stutman is not representing either party in the case.)
Also see: The larger the rock, the rockier the marriage
Strasser’s lawsuit alleges that Dickens did not contribute to the mortgage or expenses during that phase of their relationship. Strasser was the “sole breadwinner from the beginning to the end of their cohabitation,” while Dickens was not employed in either a full-time or part-time capacity and thus had no income,” according to the court filings. The relationship soured and, “after a particularly dramatic weekend on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018,” it officially ended.
‘For both of our sakes, I look forward to completing this uncomfortable process as amicably as possible, to putting this process behind us, and to focusing on the next chapter of our lives.’
During their time together, the suit says Strasser adopted two rescue dogs and Dickens had a dog of her own, which she had adopted prior to their moving in together. But the relationship appeared to go downhill from there. “Over the next several months, the living space available in the unit proved difficult for the parties and the three dogs,” it adds.
“The wedding band is considered marital property,” says Jacqueline Newman, a managing partner at Berkman, Bottger, Newman & Rodd in New York. “If it’s marital property, it’s subject to division. If you get divorced a month later, she still gets to keep the engagement ring. I often joke with my male friends, ‘Spend more money on the wedding ring than the engagement ring.’” (Newman is not representing either party in the case.)
There is some personal correspondence in the suit, including a March 14, 2017 email from the venue, the Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek, where Strasser and Dickens were planning to host their wedding, which was scheduled to take place earlier this year. “Congratulations on your engagement!” the email reads. “What a beautiful time of year to be married and exciting for your guests.”
In another screenshot of an email dated Jan. 9, 2018, Strasser wrote to Dickens, imploring her to return the engagement ring, noting that the appraised value of the diamond was now closer to $125,000: “For both of our sakes, I look forward to completing this uncomfortable process as amicably as possible, to putting this process behind us, and to focusing on the next chapter of our lives.”
Strasser recounts one poignant scene after their breakup when his father was sent to retrieve his dogs and the ring. In that Jan. 9 email, Strasser alleges that Dickens and her mother told his father that they had decided that the ring would not be returned under any circumstances. When Strasser’s father attempted to retrieve the dogs, Strasser wrote to Dickens, “You refused to hand over Tyus, holding him in your arms.”
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