The common law recognizes the right of a party to sue the promisor for the breach of an executory agreement to marry. Such a cause of action arises when one of the parties fails to comply with the terms of the agreement and that amounts to a breach. An action may be brought to recover damages for the breach of a promise of marriage. The right to bring an action for breaching a promise of marriage arises when either of the parties fails to perform the terms of the contract. A cause of action arises if the defendant fails to perform the terms of the contract and that has been considered as a breach by the plaintiff. The action need not be on the contract itself. If the facts warrant, recovery may be had upon the allegation of injury by reason of the fraud and deceit. However, mere breach of a term of contract in due time does not give rise to an action for damages. The opposite party is entitled to consider the contract at an end and to maintain an action for damages where such a failure cannot be reasonably excused. Apart from any anticipatory breach, a contract to marry at a specific time or on the happening of some contingency or future event is not broken until the time arrives or the event takes place.
Statutes governing the right of action for breach of promise of marriage are also called “Heart Balm Statutes.” Certain states do not validate the right of action for breach of promise to marry. Heart balm statutes bar actions for damages suffered from the breach of a promise to marry and other direct consequences of the breach, such as humiliation. These statutes are enacted to control excessive and fraudulent claims. It is commonly regarded that a state legislature has plenary power to regulate the marriage status and that the legislature can determine whether marriages should be entered into due to the danger or threat of an action for breach of promise, as a matter of public policy.
The statutes that abolish actions for breach of promise to marry have not been universally adopted. Therefore in certain cases, the courts have to determine issues of conflict of laws. However, a general rule exists that if the forum has such a statute, an action cannot be maintained, since the statute represents the state’s statement of its own public policy. The courts have held that an action for breach of contract to marry cannot be maintained in a federal court sitting in a jurisdiction where such actions have been abolished under the terms of a statute declaring, either expressly or in effect, that the maintenance of such actions is contrary to the public policy of the state. This rule is applicable even though the cause of action arose in a jurisdiction where such an action would be recognized.