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Agreement To Marry

Unwillingness to marry on the part of a party to a marriage contract gives rise to an action for breach of the promise to marry.  A claim based on an agreement to marriage is decided upon the terms and conditions in the agreement and the validity of the agreement entered into by the parties.  The validity of a marriage agreement is determined similarly to any other agreement.  There must be an offer and an acceptance.  An action is founded upon a promise of marriage by a defendant and a subsequent breach of this engagement or promise.  The law requires that a plaintiff be willing to marry the defendant.  There must be an actual and mutual contract existing between the parties and not a mere offer on the part of the defendant which the plaintiff might be at liberty to accept or reject.  The obligation arising under a contract must be mutual.[i]

For an agreement to marry to be valid, it must be free of duress or fraud.  Moreover, a contract must be supported by lawful consideration.  In Fowler v. Perry,[ii] the court observed that an engagement ring, a gift incidental to an engagement, is the symbol and token of a couple’s agreement to marry.  As such, marriage is an implied condition of the transfer of title to the ring and thus the gift does not become absolute until the marriage occurs.

In order to sustain an action for breach of marriage contract, an acceptance of the offer of marriage need not be in express words, but can be implied from the conduct of the parties.[iii] An acceptance can be implied from the relations assumed by the parties at the time of the offer or subsequent to it.[iv]

It is contrary to public policy and illegal for a party who has a living spouse to make an engagement to marry another.  Such an agreement is not saved by the fact that the parties to the first marriage are separated and that the new agreement is made expressly conditional on procuring a divorce.  Such a party cannot maintain an action for breach of promise, even after getting divorce.[v]

For a marriage agreement to be valid, the parties must have both the capacity to contract and the capacity to marry.  Generally, a minor is not bound by an executory contract to marry.[vi] However, a minor is not liable for a breach of a contract to marry.  Moreover, a promise to marry entered into by persons already married is unenforceable, as against public policy.[vii]

Additionally, a contract is invalid where the statute provides that no party to a divorce proceeding shall be capable of contracting a marriage with a third person until the expiration of a statutory period.  However, it is not essential for the validity of a marriage contract that the time for performance of the contract be stated.  The law assumes a reasonable time for the performance of an agreement to marriage.  Indefinite and uncertain time period makes a contract void.  Moreover, where the place of performance of contract is not specified in the contract, marriage can be performed anywhere.[viii]

[i] Peppinger v. Low, 6 N.J.L. 384, 384-385 (Sup. Ct. 1797)

[ii] 830 N.E.2d 97, 105 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005),

[iii] McKee v. Mouser, 131 Iowa 203 (Iowa 1906)

[iv] Robinson v. Craver, 88 Iowa 381 (Iowa 1893)

[v] Sanders v. Gore, 676 So. 2d 866, 870 (La.App. 3 Cir. July 10, 1996)

[vi] Rush v. Wick, 31 Ohio St. 521 (Ohio 1877)

[vii] Sanders v. Gore, 676 So. 2d 866 (La.App. 3 Cir. July 10, 1996)

[viii] Elmore v. Haddix, 254 Ky. 292, 295 (Ky. 1934

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