The Breach Of Promise To Marry And Its Legal Implications

By Adekunle Famuyiwa

Oftentimes, when I come across this popular Nigerian saying “love na scam”, what comes to mind is that it emanated from occurrences where a party who has promised another person a hand in marriage reneged on his promise.

This saying is always accompanied by a recent, yet, scary word which has just been added to the relationship dictionary “Breakfast”  and translates to "Heartbreak" from a relationship - in this context. When people want to paint a beautiful and funny picture of a breach of promise to marry, they will always mention “breakfast”.

Unfortunately, the increased level of "breakfast" calls for attention considering the psychological implications attached to it.

The word has become popular to such extent that a Nigerian musician averred in his song that “Lass Lass, Na everybody go chop breakfast”.

It can be devastating for someone who has been promised marriage to be denied the hope of such marriage. The issue of love has a strong psychological and emotional force that could lead to physical, mental and health damage when things go south. Past events have shown that many people become helpless when they get involved in an issue of breach of promise to marry.

The majority of them subject the matter to the divine, hoping for God to judge the person who caused the heartbreak. Although it is widely accepted that love can fade and affection can dwindle, people should be stopped from making empty promises especially when few of them already believe that they can go free without consequences anytime there is a breach.

Little did those jilted know that they can resolve into legal action especially when their heart got broken in a pathetic and wicked way.

Nigerian laws have provisions for compensation of a jilted party in cases of occurrence of a breach of promise to marry. Marriage is considered a contract between a man and a woman that they would marry each other. A promise to marry is considered a contract which can be made orally and in writing form, of which breach has legal consequences.

Nikki Tobi in Ezeanah v. Atta stated that, “. an agreement or contract to marry is a bilateral affair between a man and a woman, both parties must be ad idem in respect of any collateral transaction relating to the intended marriage and breach of that promise is enforceable against the person who breached”.

Hence, the agreement must be in writing for it to be legally binding and enforceable. Although there are no formal requirements for this contract, the offer must be communicated in clear terms without ambiguity, thereby allowing the other party to either accept or reject the proposal.

Romantic advances or expressions of love are not always legally regarded as indications of intent to marry if there is no clear contract. Also, mere cohabitation and copulation do not amount to a contract to marry. Hence, a party can sue another party for breach of promise to marry with a clear fact and legally made contract.

Marriages are governed by legislation which comprises the Marriage Act, the Matrimonial Causes Act, Customary Law, etc., in Nigeria. The Marriage Act provides for the celebration of marriages while the Matrimonial Causes Act makes provisions for matrimonial causes.

In the event of a breach, the affected party may file a lawsuit for compensation. It should be remembered that either party may file a lawsuit for breach of the engagement. The right to file a lawsuit for a broken marriage vow is not just reserved for women; an offended man can also do so.

To successfully prove breach of promise to marry, the person suing must prove that the other party made a promise to marry under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1990 and the other party reneged on his promise.

Finally, the person that broke the commitment to marry may be able to assert certain defences in some circumstances. For instance, if the marriage is void under the Matrimonial Causes Act, the party suing would not have a case. Examples of void marriage are where either of the parties is legally married to another person, the consent of the parties are not real, consent was obtained by duress, either party is not of marriageable age and either of the party is not mentally fit for marriage.


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