Governing Law

The statutes that abolish actions for breach of promise to marry have not been universally adopted.  Therefore in certain cases, the courts have to first determine conflict of laws issues.  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.

If the promisor’s state of residence has abolished the cause of action for breach of promise to marry by statute, and that such action is statutorily preserved in the promisee’s state of residence, a federal district court having diversity jurisdiction would apply the law of the promisee’s state, even though the parties became engaged in the promisor’s state.  This is because it was in the promisee’s state that the parties decided over the details of their proposed marriage.  The fact that the bride’s fiance purchased the wedding ring and restated the marital promise there, and the parties eventually planned to be married there would also decide the jurisdiction for a cause of action arising out of a breach of a promise to marry.

Statutes governing the right of action for breach of the 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.


Inside Governing Law