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A Promise To Marry

While it would make more sense to dive straight into the preliminaries that come with marriage, I thought it would be more befitting to first address what comes before marriage. A promise to marry in layman’s terms is a betrothal or rather an engagement to be married.

Legally, it is a contract mutually entered into by a man or a woman capable of contracting matrimony that they will marry one another. To be honest with you, this is probably the most romantic the law will ever get. 

Though engagements today can end in a blink of an eye, traditionally a promise to marry amounted to a contractual undertaking that was legally enforceable provided the aggrieved party could show that the party at fault intended to enter into the legal relationship but withdrew from it without any legal justification. 

This type of contract is different from an ordinary contract in that it need not be in writing and the law provided no particular form of words of promise. If an individual fails to fulfill a promise to marry, it will be treated as similar to a breach of contract. This means that one party may be able to hold the other party liable for breaking their promise.

A promise to marry
Credit: Shutterstock

It is better to promise nothing and try and give everything…..than promise everything and give nothing at all


For a contract of this kind to exist, there is no legal requirement for a declaration of an intention to marry by both parties to be made at the same time. A reasonable time is required for the communication of this intention. A promise to marry must be fulfilled within the stipulated time, or, where no time has been stipulated, within a reasonable time. A conditional promise to marry may be sued upon when this condition has been fulfilled.

In Larok v Obwoya, the Respondent (a lady) and the Appellant were friends when the lady was a pupil. At college, she became pregnant and as a result, was expelled from the college. The man wrote to her promising to marry her by the end of April. This was in 1968. In October, he again wrote to the lady indicating that he was no longer keen to marry her. The lady then went to court and sued for breach of promise to marry and the lower court held that the man had committed a breach of the promise and awarded the lady damages. This decision was based on two grounds;

 i) That her chances of getting married had been impaired

ii) The court also put consideration to the injury posed to her feelings.

The law isn’t so thoughtless after all.

In such an instance where a plaintiff prevails in their lawsuit, they cannot force a defendant to marry them if the defendant does not wish to do so. Simply put, unlike every other contract, if the plaintiff prevails, not all contract remedies can apply. For example, they cannot be awarded specific performance as a remedy. A defendant cannot be forced to marry a plaintiff furthermore, a plaintiff’s award of damages may be subject to mitigation, or a reduction if they acted in some way to contribute to their breach.

If the plaintiff has already married another individual, it will not affect their ability to recover damages in any way. The fact that the plaintiff married another individual does not relieve a defendant of their liability under the promise to marry contract.

Today, a breach of a promise to marry is not a common plea in our courts. However, it’s interesting to know that an engagement at one time held so weight in our society.

Credit: Adobe

So who gets to keep the ring?

Everyone knows diamonds are a girl’s best friend and I can imagine how hard it might be for a lady undergoing a broken promise of engagement to let go of the ring.  The subject of the ring and its possession after a broken engagement is left up to the parties to decide.

But aren’t we lucky we have someone who keeps his promise and actually died for us? Have a very Happy Easter weekend!!