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My Spouse -To-Be Broke Off Our Engagement, Can I Sue?

My Spouse -To-Be Broke Off Our Engagement, Can I Sue?

There is the story of Kemi who poured hot oil on her boyfriend of four years upon finding out that he was getting married to another lady. Kemi was infuriated and acted out of impulse because she loved her fiancé so dearly and planned to get married to him but felt betrayed and disgraced  because of what he did. Hence the out of control, inhumane revenge.

There is also the story of Kelvin who has been in this committed relationship for the past 3 years with the intention of getting married. Kelvin, on his own part, rates himself as someone who is doing well financially and in turn gives his best for the success of his relationship. But on a fateful day, he woke up to a text message from his fiancé informing him of opting out of the relationship because she found someone better than him. Kelvin has been battling depression and anxiety ever since. He feels like he is not good enough and not worthy of having any lady.

In today’s society, there are a plethora of failed live -in- love affairs, heartbreaks, counter heartbreaks, jilting, eloping, dumping, etc. Commonly characterized in love/romantic relationships between lovers of opposite sex (in Nigerian jurisdiction).  Any gender can be a victim of this and the other partner can have his/her reason for wanting to end a relationship. What went wrong or why it happened that way is not what we would be addressing. I believe that is the work of a therapist. Our focus is the legal implications of such an act and it is most apposite to consider them since these actions are what bedevils the pre marital institution in our modern day societal living.

Where either a man or woman falls  victim to a  broken engagement, such a person can institute legal action for a civil claim in some cases. So yes, you can sue for a broken engagement if the conditions in this article are met.

A spouse to be means that there has been a promise made to marry one another and one party has breached such promise.

What constitutes a promise to marry? 

A promise to marry is defined as a “betrothal”, “engagement to be married” “agreement to marry”. The promise to marry contract comes into existence by the mutual exchange of promises by the parties to marry each other. A mere convivial or romantic relationship or discussion about the future is not enough for a court to find an agreement to marry. So if a party can show that there was in fact an existence of a promise to marry and one party reneges, then a civil claim may be made.

Promise to marry can be inferred from the action or conduct of the party making the promise. Any action or conduct which directly suggests promise would constitute evidence and therefore proof of promise to marry. 

To constitute a breach of promise to marry, two elements are essential: First it must be proved to the satisfaction of the court that there was a promise to marry under the relevant law. The aggrieved party will need to supply evidence to corroborate this. Pictures, recordings, letters etc. In some cases, corroborative evidence from people who are aware of the proposal.

Second, it must be shown that one party to the agreement, whether the man or the woman, has failed or refused to honor the obligation. So a mere postponement will not suffice as enough proof to lay claim or bring a case. Unless in cases of consistent postponement, it is clear that such a partner has no intention to actually go on with the marriage.

When the above are established, the injured party may sue the other for breach of the contract and claim damages which can include:

Damages for any financial loss resulting from the breach e.g. expenses already incurred towards the preparation of the wedding ceremony.

Compensatory damages for injury to the health of the aggrieved party and/or his/ here reputation. For example an aggrieved party may need professional counselling after the breakup.

Interestingly, there are defenses to a claim for breach of promise to marry to justify the breach. These defenses come in the form of general defenses, which are available to general contract law such as fraud, duress or misrepresentation which could be pleaded to justify a breach of the promise to marry. For example, where a man misrepresent to a woman that he is from a very rich home and the woman, acting on that misrepresentation, promises to marry the man, a subsequent breach by the woman (who later discovers the real situation of the man) can be availed by the defense of misrepresentation! 

The other species of defenses are termed “special defenses”. It may be pleaded that there is some actual moral, physical or mental infirmity in the plaintiff which makes him or her unfit for marriage. This defense presupposes that the person making a claim for breach is suffering from some moral, physical or mental infirmity; the infirmity must be such as to render that person unfit for marriage; the infirmity must have been discovered after the contract to marry was made; and the person being sued must show as a necessity, that some actual infirmity in the person making a claim exist. In essence,  mere suspicion will not be enough. A party who discovers, after the contract to marry has been made, that the intended spouse is a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) or a hermaphrodite could perhaps plead these facts as a special defense to a claim of breach of promise to marry.

Marriage is regarded as a very sacred institution both in our society and in our sociology. Accordingly, an agreement to enter into a marriage should leave nobody in doubt as to the real intention of the parties to enter into a marriage. Also, for a person who has been a victim of a broken engagement, he/she must be ready to prove the elements listed above in order to be compensated

So instead of resorting to unconventional methods, an aggrieved person can seek redress in the court of law. If you know someone that was ditched by his/her fiancé, it is not the end of the world, the person can sue.

Perhaps you’re going through a divorce proceeding with your spouse and you’re considering taking up custody of the children of your union, you can gather insights from our article on THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE PURSUING A CHILD CUSTODY REQUEST.

You can also see our article on CHILD SUPPORT AND MAINTENANCE IN NIGERIA.