I’m Engaged. What Does This Legally Mean?

Last week, I was at a dinner party, when I heard a recently engaged young lady say to her fiancé, “you can’t leave me now, we are engaged and I can sue you for the lifestyle with which I am accustomed.”

Legally, what she meant was that, she had a claim for damages for future financial losses expected from the marriage. My immediate reaction was to giggle at how naïve some women can be about their legal rights but instead I politely shock my head and, to her shock and horror, corrected her as to where she legally currently stood. In light of her reaction and the other women at the table, I felt the need to enlighten the public.

Historically you could approach the courts for assistance if you had a “breach of promise to marriage” claim. Firstly, if your partner had intentionally terminated the engagement in a hurtful way that infringed your dignity then you could claim against your partner. Secondly, you could claim for damages for actual expenses and losses, already incurred in the expectation of the now non-transpiring wedding and marriage. Thirdly, you could claim for damages for prospective or future financial losses, provided these could have been anticipated following the intended marriage. (prospective loss damages)

During 2008 and again in 2010, the courts started to doubt the claim for prospective loss damages. These doubts arose from concerns about changes in public policy and society and that the claim was archaic.

It wasn’t really until 2013, where the courts decided that breach of promise claims for prospective loss damages are no longer permissible under South African law. It seems however the claim for hurt feelings and actual financial loss are still valid.

Where does this leave the jilted party, who has been in a long-term engagement?

Currently its seems the claim for any monies actually spent or incurred on the wedding can be claimed as well as a claim for hurt feeling. Courts have recently granted awards of up to R25 000.00 being the amount the women claimed.

However, should you wish to make a claim against your partners estate, the only option is to prove a universal partnership, which has three essential requirements. Firstly, each of the parties must bring something into the partnership or must bind themselves to bring something into the partnership, whether it be money, or labour, or skill. Secondly the partnership business should be carried on for the joint benefit of both parties and last the object of such partnership should be to make a profit.

The issue with this is that a typical engaged relationship is usually more of a romantic one than a business one, and the universal partnership requires to prove a profit motive and a contribution to a profit-making business.

Most importantly there is definitely a gender discrepancy in the termination of long-term heterosexual relationships because it is usually the woman who are most disadvantaged. I am afraid people,until the ante nuptial contract is signed and the “I do’s” are said, you are on your own.

The marriage is even more complicated but that’s another article for another day.