Family law

Breach of Promise to Marry: Legal Solution to a Heartbreak

Ada and Obi were long time lovers admired and highly esteemed by their friends as relationship goals. Most of their mutual friends usually ceased every opportunity to resound an exclamation acccompanied with a “you guys are so good at this love thing. I go love oh” to them. So it came as a shock of the century when Obi broke the news of his wedding to Kemi his secondary school sweetheart, on his social media.

What to do when your fiancé or fiancee ditches you?

The law sees and treats an “agreement to marry” as a binding contract, the breach of which entitles the disappointed party to financial compensation by way of damages. To enjoy this financial restitution, the aggrieved party must show the the existence of the following elements:

1. That there was a promise to marry; this can be proven by evidence of a marriage proposal and its acceptance like a letter, engagement ring, etc. The court will not infer a promise to marry from mere romantic talks or speculations about the parties’ future.

2. The promisor reneged on his/her promise; this is shown by evidence of a concrete breaking of the promise to marry like calling off the engagement, marrying another person, etc. The court will not interpret a postponement of the wedding, to mean its cancellation, unless such postponement lasts beyond a reasonable time and circumstantial evidence exists to show that the party who promised the marriage, has disappointed the promisee.

These two conditions precedent were clearly stated in the case of Ezeanah V. Atta (2004) LPELR – 1198 (SC) 19 where the Supreme Court per Tobi, JSC (as he then was) held that “Two elements are necessary to constitute a breach of agreement or promise of marriage. First, the party jilted must prove to the satisfaction of the court that there was in fact a promise of marriage under the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1990, or under Islamic Law or under Customary Law on the part of the other sex. Second, the party reneging has really and as a matter of fact failed or refused to keep to the agreement of the marriage”.

In the landmark case of Uso v Iketubosin [1975] WRNLR 187 the defendant promised to marry the plaintiff in 1947. In 1957, the defendant married another woman in breach of his promise to the plaintiff. The Court held that the defendant’s act constituted a breach for which the plaintiff was entitled to damages.

Remedies Available to the heartbroken Party:

  • Damages for financial expenses incurred as a result of the promised marriage, for instance cost of preparation for wedding, etc.
  • Damages for emotional and psychological trauma and loss of reputation suffered as a result of the broken promise of marriage;
  • Special damages can be sought where the Claimant can prove specific expenses incurred by him/her as a result of the broken promise to marry;
  • General damages and cost of action, and so on.

It is important to note that the award of these damages is at the discretion of the court, to be exercised judiciously.

In conclusion, the law is on your side when you (or someone you know) get disappointed or jilted by a lover who promised marriage. It is okay to brood when these things happen, but not without informing a lawyer about the situation, to enable you benefit from the legal remedy available, especially in monetary terms as discussed above.

AUTHOR

Ebere Ndubueze is a University of Calalabar and Nigeria Law School Alumnus; a Chartered Mediator and Conciliator whose legal interest lie at the intersection of Alternative Dispute Resolution, Intellectual Property and Technology Law. She can be reached via: email- ndubuezeeberelene@gmail.com, Twitter/Instagram- eberendubueze, LinkedIn- Ebere Ndubueze