Omoge is an Auditor who works in one of the top audit firms in Nigeria. She met Adere in 2015 and fell deeply for him. Adere was the man of her dreams, he was anything a woman could ever wish for. He was tall, handsome, adventurous, ambitious, all shades of lovely was he. Adere wasn’t overly rich but he was comfortable and being a top Auditor, Omoge was definitely earning more than him, but this didn’t matter, despite the difference in their earning capacities their relationship bloomed. Omoge was so much in love with Adere that she supported him financially through his master’s degree program in England. She even bought him an apartment in Oniru Estate, Victoria Island, Lagos State. Fast forward three years into their relationship, there were a lot of quarrels and very heated arguments. The amazing times they had as a couple suddenly started turning sour, but Omoge still loved Adere. He was after all the man of her dreams in whom she has invested heavily. Adere on the other hand was already tired of the relationship. There was no more of that vibe they had at the beginning. In 2018, Adere had to man up and tell Omoge that he couldn’t go on with the relationship, he was pulling out.
The above scenario is a typical case of what goes on in an ordinary day life in the Nigerian Society. Such disappointments have happened to many men and women and the character of Omoge could be a man or a woman.
Concept of Breach of Promise to Marry
The concept of Breach of Promise to Marry (BPM) has its roots in the old English Common Law. The remedy is open to both a man and a woman but the majority of recorded cases of BPM has been instituted by women.
Burden of Proof
Before a claim for BPM can succeed in Court, the Plaintiff has to first prove that there was actually a promise to marry. A promise to marry is synonymous with a contract to marry. The plaintiff has to show that the defendant actually made a promise of marriage either under the Marriage Act, Islamic law or Customary law. Also, the agreement to marry should leave no one in doubt as to the real intention of the parties to enter into a marriage.
Using the Omoge scenario above, there was no contract to marry, Adere never promised to marry Omoge. In the eyes of the Law they were just having a good time. It would have been a different ball game if Adere had proposed marriage to Omoge and she accepted, then there would be a valid promise or contract to marry.
Forms of Breach of Promise to Marry
Generally, a breach of promise to marry may take one of the two forms;
- Non-Performance and
- Anticipatory Breach.
There may be non-performance when the time for performance is fixed, thus where a date has been fixed for the wedding, the failure of one of the parties to turn up for the wedding amounts to a breach. There might be situations where the parties never fixed a date for the wedding. In such cases performance is meant to take place within a reasonable time.
It is an anticipatory breach when a party pulls out of the marriage agreement either by word or by conduct. Conduct here could be getting married to someone else. In Adere’scase, assuming there was a valid promise to marry, his breach would be an anticipatory breach by words.
Conditional Promise to Marry
It is worthy to state here that where the promise to marry is subject to a condition, there can be no BPM until the condition has been fulfilled. A good example of a condition is where two persons consents to marry each other but makes it subject to a condition that they get the consents of their parents. If this consent is not gotten then there can be no BPM.
In a claim for BPM, the Plaintiff can ask the court for either general or special damages.
General damages could be the loss of the status of being a married woman or man as the case may be. It is important to adduce evidence as to the defendant’s property and position in life, this would go to show what would have being the Plaintiff’s position if the defendant hadn’t broken off the engagement. Therefore, if for instance, Dangote’s son promises marriage to a lady and breaks off the engagement, the lady can sue him and claim for the loss of the affluence she would have had if the marriage actually took place.
General claim could also be injured feelings and wounded pride, especially if there was harsh and unfavourable treatment or the engagement prevented the plaintiff from getting married to someone else.
The Plaintiff can also ask for special damages and this includes the financial loss or cost incurred as a result of the engagement. This could be money spent on durable articles to be used during the wedding or in the matrimonial home, refreshments and other forms of entertainment.
What Happens to Gifts and Engagement Rings Once a Breach of Promise to Marry Has Occurred?
A very serious issue in claims of BPM is the issue of engagement rings and gifts exchanged during the engagement. With respect to the issue of engagement ring, the law is that the party who breaks the engagement loses the right or claim to the engagement ring.
For example, If it was the lady who calls off the engagement she loses the right to the engagement ring, and if it was the man, he loses claim to the engagement ring.
For gifts exchanged during the engagement, a clear distinction should be made between gifts made in contemplation of marriage and those which are absolute and free from conditions. Where the latter is the case, the law is that no claim can be made over them because they are gifts between ordinary friends. However, if the gift was in contemplation of marriage as an engagement gift, the principle of the engagement ring will apply. This also applies to third parties like parents and friends who gave gift during the engagement, such gifts are to be returned to the people who gave them. In Omoge’s case above, the gift she gave to Adere will not be classified as an engagement gift but rather will be taken as one between ordinary friends and won’t be returned.
Claims Against Third Parties
The plaintiff can also make the claim against a third party who induces the breach of promise. However, to do this the third party must have had knowledge of the engagement and must have intended to break up the engagement. Therefore, if in our Omoge scenario there was actually an engagement and Adere’s disinterest was as a result of a particular very beautiful ‘slay queen’ who knew of the engagement with Omoge, Omoge can also include her in her claim for BPM and get damages from her.
Finally, the defendant can have a defence for breaching his promise and where this defence is accepted in Court, the damages can be reduced to the very minimal. Such defence could be a mental or physical infirmity which arose after the promise to marry was made. It can also be that the Plaintiff misrepresented some facts (i.e., lied) to defendant.
Written by Alli Chinwe
Facebook: Chinwe Alli