Aug 4, 2017

You can sue for a breach of promise to marry

The Nigerian culture takes marriage really serious; many young adults consider settling down as quite important and enter relationships with the intention of spending time with this partner. Such relationships could include casual flings, having an exclusive dating relationship or even had led to an engagement with a promise to marry. However, sometimes these relationships don’t work out and parties stop dating or being friends all together.

What if a heart break could entitle you to financial damages, will you act on it? So you met a great guy that swept you off your feet, you had envisioned life with your man and maybe he had even proposed to you before your friends and family. You gave him your world and you had both agreed to get married but at the end of the day he ditched you for someone else. The hurt sometimes can only be best imagined. However, did you know that you may be entitled to damages for a breach of contract to marry?  

Nigerian law states that 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. A mere convivial or romantic relationship without more is not enough for a court to found an agreement to marry. In essence, there must have been a promise to marry. A promise to marry can be a “betrothal”, an “engagement to be married” also termed “agreement to marry”. Such agreement need not also be formal such as a written agreement as it may also be oral.

For the purpose of proving a claim, 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 marriage.

In proving that there was a breach of promise to marry, the claim must be corroborated by another witness or other material evidence such as correspondences and communications, as the law specifically states corroboration is required in actions of breach of promise of marriage. The reliefs you can seek in court shall however be limited to damages as the court cannot compel anyone to marry another. Extent of damages for such breach is however at the discretion of the court.

Damages awarded by courts fall under the following categories: general damages e.g. compensation for the loss of consortium of the other party; injured feelings, wounded pride, etc ; special damages affecting property e.g for money spent or financial loss sustained by the plaintiff as a direct result of the defendant’s breach of the promise to marry; recovery of the engagement ring and presents. An interesting thing to note is that damages could also be claimed against a third party who induced the breach.

It is important to note that not everyone is bound by a breach of promise to marry. The other party may also have valid reasons of defences for not carrying out the obligation. Such may include false representation, or fraudulent concealment in material particulars, of the pecuniary circumstances or previous life of the claimant. The bad character of the claimant will also excuse the defendant from performance of the contract, unless he or she was aware of the plaintiff's character before making the promise.

Physical or mental incapacity may give rise to a right to terminate the engagement in limited circumstances. No disease or infirmity short of absolute incapacity on the part of the defendant will avail him or her, however, even if it is proved that the performance of marital duties would endanger his or her life. The fact that the defendant honestly and reasonably believed the plaintiff to be unfit to marry is no defence if the plaintiff was in fact fit. Also, it is a defence to an action for breach of promise that the plaintiff has released or discharged the defendant from performance before any breach of the contract occurs. The release may be express or implied.

What do you think, would you sue an ex for a breach of promise to marry?

1. (2017). THE LAW RELATING TO BREACH OF PROMISE OF MARRIAGE. Available: Last accessed 4th August, 2017.

2.     Ezeanah v. Atta (2004) 7 NWLR (Pt. 873)468

3.     Lambe v. Jolayemi (2002) 13 NWLR (Pt. 784) Pg. 356 Paras. E - G

4.     Orumor. (11th October, 2016 ). The breach of promise to marry and its legal consequences. Available: Last accessed 4th August, 2017 .

5.     The Honourable (Mr) Justice Adebayo Manuwa v. National Judicial Council & Ors (2011) LPELR-5015(CA)

Adedunmade Onibokun

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