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Can You Sue for a Broken Engagement?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on March 30, 2016 3:57 PM

If you're still smarting because your betrothed broke off your engagement, you may be pondering the many ways you could exact your revenge. Beyond the many illegal things you should definitely avoid doing, are there any legal remedies available for the jilted ex?

As it turns out, there was a common law doctrine known as "breach of marriage promise" that allowed you to sue someone for breaking off an engagement. But whether that still applies may depend on where you live.

Old Law, New Law

Due to the evolving nature of marriage and, more importantly, the growing financial independence of women, most states have abolished breach of marriage promise actions. As women become less socio-economically dependent on marriage, calling off a marriage becomes less detrimental or damaging. That, along with the legalization of same-sex marriage means that, generally speaking, both partners are on equal footing going into, and coming out of, an engagement.

That said, these lawsuits still persist in some states -- Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah all still allow breach of marriage claims. As recently as 2013, a Georgia court awarded a woman $50,000 after her fiancé ended their relationship, and his claims that the relationship was never real to begin with were unconvincing.

Most successful claims following breakups involve some evidence that one party made financially or emotionally detrimental decisions based on the promise of marriage. Moving from one place to another, forgoing job opportunities, or even paying substantial amounts of money to wedding vendors can all be evidence of detrimental reliance.

The Ring Is the Thing

By far the most contested issue in most broken engagements is who gets to keep the engagement ring. Most jurisdictions have no-fault engagement ring policies, whereby the ring is returned to the giver if the wedding is called off, regardless of who broke up with whom. Other courts will consider the ring a gift, which stays with the receiver no matter what.

Some judges will allow the person receiving the ring to keep it even if the two aren't technically engaged, and others will say you get to keep it if you're broken up with via text message.

To find out if you get to keep the ring, or if you have a valid breach of marriage promise claim, you should talk to an experienced family law attorney near you.

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