“The love that once bound these two people and got frosted. Can be likened to verse xxxv of Shakespeare “Sonnets a sort of Lamentation”. And also verse 1 of “Passionate Pilgrim” Thus we have in this case” so much love. And then so much pain”. It is the way of the World.”
PATS – ACHOLONU, JSC
Fellow compatriots, heartbreaks seem to have a never-ending trend season. A few months back, news of breakups, dumping, eloping and jilting were very common. As you would expect, each ‘jilt or breakup’ episode had different story lines and plot twists but all had a common summary. That summary as you also know is this; one romantic partner refused fulfilling his or her promise to marry.
This is what one may call – ‘a very annoying I no do again situation’. And it often leaves the disappointed partner heartbroken and sometimes doing a mental cover of Toni Braxton’s un-break my heart or Adele’s someone like you. This is a sad reality, I know and you might ask; is the law silent on heartbreaks? The answer is a ‘technical’ No, the law actually offers the heart broken some succor in selected situations. The Law also affects couples when they are dating as you can remember by this previous article of ours.
To commence our explanation, it is important to know that a romantic relationship remains unrecognized or unprotected by the law until a promise of marriage is made. Once this promise is made, the status of the relationship is lifted to a legally binding contract.
What is a Promise to Marry?
A “promise to marry” is simply an agreement between two people to be married. This agreement can be made orally, in writing or otherwise. No matter how the agreement is made, it must be made with mutual understanding by both parties to each other. Note the word ‘mutual’ please. Interestingly too, in some cases, a promise to marry can be inferred from the conduct or action of the party making the promise.
Where a party calls off the engagement by any means, other than by an agreement with the other party, he/she is in breach of a promise of marriage and can be sued (put differently, he or she is liable).
But after the heart break comes this news Flash: if the heartbroken partner engages in acts of violence to hurt the eloped or jilting partner, criminal charges could come knocking. And the heart broken partner may console himself or herself in prison after being prosecuted. It is therefore advisable that a hurt partner seeks redress in court and not inflict violence on the heart breaker.
In suing for breach of promise to marry, it would be necessary to prove that:
- there was a promise of marriage (recognizable in Law) and this does not need to be in writing. The promise of marriage must be clear. No one should be in doubt of the real intentions of the parties into enter into a marriage. A mere romantic relationship, wishful thinking and futuristic talks won’t sustain a suit in Court.
- the other party has failed or refused to honour their obligation (in this case, the promise of marriage)
Once these elements are sufficiently proven, the party is entitled to and may be granted a measure of monetary compensation (damages). However, the proof of these elements is not an automatic lottery ticket to monetary compensation. That is because of Section 197 of the Evidence Act (which I have reproduced below).
Very importantly too, never forget that the Court will not force an unwilling partner into marrying a willing and ready partner. Therefore, you will not get an order from the Court forcing the ‘heartbreaker’ to fulfill his or her promise of marriage. Rather, the court will convert whatever loss suffered into monetary and material value. Such may be loss of marriage/consortium, injured feelings, wounded pride and money spent in contemplation of the promise to marry.
Other Compensations may include:
- Recovery of engagement ring: where the lady breaks off the engagement without just cause, she is bound to return the ring. On the other hand, where the man breaks off the engagement without just cause, he loses his right to reclaim the ring.
- Recovery of Gifts: this is the most sort after compensation. Just for the records, it is noteworthy that the law makes a distinction between gifts made in contemplation of marriage on the one hand, and those that are absolute and free on the other hand. The former include the ring, money and items directly meant for the wedding day and matrimonial home. These are recoverable. While absolute and given gifts given freely out of love, and not on the ‘business’ or contract of marriage are not recoverable. Putting it more practically, all those recharge cards, hair money, sit-out expenses, valentine’s day gifts and iPhone money are irrecoverable because they were given out of love as could happen between friends, and are therefore not proof of a promise to marry.
The ‘Heartbreaker/Defendant’ may have a sufficient defence in Court if:
- he or she proves that the agreement to marry was made under fraud, duress or misrepresentation.
- the plaintiff/heartbroken party (or Ex) possesses certain moral, physical or mental infirmity or incapacities which makes he or she unfit for marriage. Some instances here include: bad character, violence and ungovernable temper, lady is pregnant for another man, or where the plaintiff had an illegitimate child without the knowledge of the defendant before the agreement was made.
On the whole, the law frowns on heartbreaks after there has been a promise of marriage. Also in appropriate cases, the law provides monetary compensation to the heartbroken when there is an unfulfilled promise of marriage.
Next time you or someone you know suffers a breach of promise to marry, please do not try to physically harm anybody. Get mad by consulting a lawyer!
MISS CHINYE A.M. EZEANAH V. ALHAJI MAHMOUD I. ATTA (2004) LPELR-1198(SC)
Lambe v. Jolayemi (2002) 13 NWLR (Pt. 784) Pg. 356 Paras. E – G
Section 197 of the Evidence Act 2011 states that No Plaintiff in any action for breach of promise of marriage can recover a verdict unless his or her testimony is corroborated by some other material evidence in support of such promise, and the fact that the defendant did not answer letters affirming that he had promised to marry the Plaintiff is not such corroboration.
You may also want to read this article by Alliance Law Firm
Aniekan Imeh LLB
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