Breach of a Promise to Marrybreach of promise to marry

What is a Breach of a Promise to Marry?

Derived from the days of English colonial law, a breach of a promise to marry was originally created as a cause of action for women who stood to lose financial support, their reputation in society, and their ability to remarry all because of a broken engagement. In modern times, even though the role of women in society has drastically changed, certain states still recognize this cause of action.

North Carolina law has recognized a cause of action for the breach of a promise to marry since the 1800’s under its “Heart Balm Laws.” This cause of action exists when one person promises to marry another and then backs out of their promise. The non-breaching party may be entitled to damages as a result of the breach.

What Needs to Be Proven to Bring This Cause of Action?

A breach of a promise to marry is treated exactly the same is a breach of contract. This means that one party can hold the other liable for breaking their promise under contract law. The party who brings the action against the other needs to prove that:

  • There were mutual promises to marry each other;
  • That there was a breach of the promise by a party; and
  • The breach of the promise to marry happened without any justification.

What Kind of Damages Can Be Recovered?

In general, a party who brings this cause of action in a North Carolina court may be entitled to any damages for financial loss, injuries to their physical or mental health, damages to their reputation, or even in some cases, punitive damages. All of these damages are available in a contractual dispute and just like in contract law, the damages must be related to the breach of the promise to marry.

Are There Any Defenses to This Action?

Yes. The alleged breaching party may be able to demonstrate that both parties lacked legal capacity to enter into a legally binding contract to marry, or that the basic requirements for contract formation were not met. Additionally, if the defendant later became aware of the plaintiff’s conditions, such as an incapacity or disease of the plaintiff which would have made it improper or unsafe to marry, they may use this as a defense to any possible breach. Finally, the promise to marry must have been made in North Carolina, or another state which recognizes this cause of action.

The attorneys at Gilles Law, PLLC practice family law. Consider setting up a consultation with us to discuss your family law inquiries at our office in uptown Charlotte. If you believe this topic applies to you, give us a call today at 980-272-8438 for additional information.

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