04 Jul My fiancé broke off our engagement, can I sue under Nigerian law?
Now, this discussion is not about what went wrong, why he/she broke it off, or how you can deal with the heartache. Unfortunately, we at LawPàdí are, not emotional therapists.
Rather, it is around what legal rights the ditched partner (apologies for the use of that word) has when the other party reneges on an agreement to marry under Nigerian law. The technical term is ‘breach of promise to marry’.
The state of affairs is simple under Nigerian law- an agreement to marry is viewed as a binding legal contract, and if a party can show that there was in actual fact an existence of a promise to marry, and one party reneges, then a civil claim can be made.
Now I know what you are thinking…how can I sue someone who doesn’t want to marry me? I don’t want the court to force an unwilling husband/wife to marry me…and you are right- the court can’t and won’t force an unwilling party into marriage.
However, what the Nigerian courts can and will do is award damages to an aggrieved party when there has indeed been a breach of promise to marry. To bring a case, the aggrieved party must prove that:
- There was in fact a promise to marry – this goes beyond mere ‘discussions about the future’…the best way to show this is by an actual proposal of marriage (as in ring on finger) or acceptance of a marriage proposal. The aggrieved party will need to supply evidence to corroborate this; your words against the other party’s won’t hold much water…documentary evidence like pictures, recordings, letters etc. will suffice. In some cases if there is no evidence, the court will listen to corroborative evidence from people who are aware of the proposal of marriage.
- The party must have reneged on the promise – therefore a mere postponement would not in normal circumstances be enough for you to bring a case. However, in some exceptional circumstances, when there has been consistent postponement and it is clear that your partner has no intention to actually go on with the marriage, then the court may find that this is ‘constructive breach’.
If the aggrieved party can prove both points above, he/she can bring a claim for damages. The award for damages is at the discretion of the court, and it may grant damages for things like:
- Damages for any financial loss resulting from the breach, for example expenses already incurred towards the wedding ceremony, things like wedding gowns, renting of the event hall, hiring a wedding planner etc.
- Compensatory damages for injury to the health of the aggrieved party and/or his/her reputation, for example some aggrieved party may require professional counseling after the break up
- Compensation for loss of advantages that would have stemmed from a marital relationship (this is a tricky one to prove)
So there you have it, those are some of the rights, which an aggrieved party may have if there is a breach of promise to marry. So if you or someone you know has been ditched by your fiancé (we apologise for using that word again), then remember…it’s not the end of the world…and you can sue!
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