Equitable Distribution of Property in Virginia: What is “Hybrid” Property, and How is it Divided?

Do the words “Brandenburg,” “Keeling,” or “reasonable rate of return,” mean anything to you? Probably not — but if you’re going through a divorce, they had better mean something to your attorney! Each is a different method that has been used by Virginia courts to divide hybrid property between spouses.

First of all, what is property?

“Property” is a general term that includes everything of value owned by two married people. It can include real estate, bank and investment accounts, retirement accounts, pensions, stock options – even “intangible property,” like the right to profit from patents or books written by a party.

Ok, so what is hybrid property?

In a Virginia divorce case, property owned by either party, or both parties together, can be classified by a court in one of three ways: marital, separate, or a combination of the two, known as “hybrid.” Marital property is generally any property acquired during the marriage, by either party individually or by both parties together, regardless of how the property is titled. Separate property is generally any property acquired by a party before the marriage; acquired during the marriage if by gift from a third party, inheritance, or other source outside the marriage; or acquired after separation.
Hybrid property is a combination of marital and separate property. It can occur in many forms, for example:

“What About My Engagement Ring?” Issues of Personal Property Division in Divorce

engagement rings and divorce

Engagement rings are a good example of how personal property issues can sometimes become quite complicated in a divorce.

Virginia Engagement Ring Law History

Long, long ago (okay, back in 1941), the Virginia Supreme Court looked at the issue of “who gets the ring” and found that a husband could recover the value of his engagement ring if his soon-to-be wife broke off the parties’ engagement.

“[I]f an intended husband makes a present, after the treaty of marriage had been negotiated, to his intended wife, and the inducement for the gift is the fact of her promise to marry him, if she break off the marriage, he may recover from her the value of such present…”

This case (Pretlow v. Pretlow) espouses the “conditional gift” theory.  That is, the engagement ring is a gift conditioned on a marriage actually taking place.  If the condition is not met – if the marriage does not occur – the gift is forfeited and the ring must be returned.  Many states, including Maryland, view engagement rings as conditional gifts.