I’m sure you already know the story by now seeing as it is a common occurrence especially with my Igbo brothers but I’ll still narrate it.
After “friending” her for 2 years, Chikwendu proposed to Ngozi and she agreed to marry him. Immediately, baby boy went to see her parents to do preliminary introduction and also collect “list”. Her parents agreed on one condition, Chikwendu must allow Ngozi go to the university, as she had passed the JAMB exams.
Of course Chikwendu was up to the task. He agreed to sponsor her in school and cater to all her needs. To cut the long story short, she met another man and dumped Chikwendu. Her parents supported her decision, after all, do you want their daughter to marry someone she won’t be happy with. Her happiness is their priority.
Anyway, Chikwendu has become a topic for discussion in my house. He’s trying to move on with his life, but it’s hard, understandably. He has spent a lot of money on Ngozi, and the question at home was, how can he get the money back? Some of my aunties suggested going after the girl’s parents or the man she wants to marry. Another said he should scatter her marriage plans, get touts to disrupt proceedings. I, however, suggested suing her.
Yes, he can sue her for breach of promise to marry.
One thing a lot of people do not know is that when you promise to marry another person, you have created a contract to marry. It means that both of you intend to create a marital status with all the rights and obligations pertaining to marriage and live together as a couple.
You don’t even need to put it down in writing. This contract to marry can be created orally. So, when you go down on one knee and ask “will you marry me” and she responds with “yes“, a contract to marry has been created.
Hold on, hold on, don’t contact your lawyer yet. There are certain elements that should be present in order to constitute a breach of promise to marry. The person alleging a breach of promise must prove to the satisfaction of the court that:
a. there was in fact a promise of marriage under the Matrimonial Causes Act, or under Islamic Law or Customary Law, on the part of the other sex. This means that, outside of proposing marriage to you, he must have intended to formalise this union under the Act, Islamic Law or Customary Law.
b. the party reneging has really and as a matter of fact failed or refused to keep to the agreement of marriage.
c. the party who is suing for the breach of promise to marry must also provide material evidence to corroborate his/her testimony. It is not enough to say that you people were in a romantic relationship without anything more. Or that he bought you gifts and took you round the world.
An agreement to enter into a marriage should leave nobody in doubt as to the real intention of the parties. Applying this to my story, Chikwendu proposed and Ngozi accepted. He went further to meet her parents and collected the traditional marriage list. This, without any doubt, shows that the intention of the parties was to get married.
How do you know if a breach has occurred?
Well, apart from the very obvious one of not showing up on your wedding day, if he makes it impossible, by conduct, for him to perform his obligations, then it is a breach of promise to marry, otherwise known as anticipatory breach. Things such as announcing his/her intention not to go ahead with the marriage, eloping or getting pregnant for another man, will fall under this category.
We are not out of the woods yet. Don’t assume that the other party will sit down and watch you tarnish their reputation. There are a couple of defences available to them as well:
a. They can say you used fraud to get them to promise marriage to you. A quick example, according to my friend, is where you promise to marry her based on her appearance, such as big boobs or ass, or perfectly contoured face, only for you to find out that Tracy is actually Ekaette. We are presently arguing over whether that will suffice as fraud in the courts of law.
b. Duress – The other party can claim that he proposed marriage or that she agreed to marry you against his/her wish.
c. Misrepresentation – They can also claim that you falsely presented a state of affairs to him/her as true. This is usually the case where the promise to marry is hinged on the financial state of the other party.
d. They can also claim that they suffer from some form of infirmity which may be physical, mental or moral, and this infirmity was not known to them at the time of making that promise. Now that they’ve realized the infirmity, they have decided not to go ahead with the marriage.
In conclusion, a breach of promise to marry is an actionable wrong and an injured party can claim damages. However, the important question is, who is willing, in Nigeria, to sue for breach of promise to marry?
There are so many foreign cases on this matter, but there just a handful of Nigerian cases. We, Nigerians are very judgmental people, so I’m sure when we hear that someone wants to sue for breach of promise to marry, we will be like:
a. You don’t have self respect. Is marriage a do-or-die affair?
b. You still have feelings for your ex, if not, why are you suing?
c. You have time on your hands and plenty money to waste.
d. The battle is the Lord’s. Whatever you sow you shall reap. Forgive and move on. Don’t give him/her power over you.
And so many more.
Maybe when we start seeing this whole marriage thing as a contract (which it is), and that you can be sued for breach of promise to marry, maybe, just maybe, we will stop toying with the feelings of other people.
Anyway, Chikwendu has decided to leave matters in God’s hands. So, all this my ranting is not beneficial to him. I hope it helps someone out there.
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